Selma and the Struggle

Selma isn’t just a great movie. Its sense of history and justice is deeply politicizing.

Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights activists during the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights activists during the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March.

There are sections in Selma that I treasure. They deal with strategy and the tactics involved in the struggle to secure the vote for black citizens that ultimately resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Scenes with Martin Luther King Jr (strongly played by David Oyelowo) and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) aides-de-camp evaluating whether Selma is an advantageous staging ground for the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement; scenes about negotiating the hard feelings with the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which isn’t happy to see King sweep in and take over their turf; scenes about managing the surprise appearance in Selma of King’s severest intra-movement critic, Malcolm X; scenes about King’s contentious attempts to persuade Lyndon Johnson to take swift action on voting rights legislation.

I wish such scenes had been twice as detailed and twice as long. I want to see intelligent political activism modeled in films, old and new. Popular films so often provide us with representations of what we lack in our culture — that’s what makes them popular. And Selma is doing very brisk business in American theaters.

Here is the rest of the review:

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