Friday, January 9, 2015

Selma Review

When I first heard of this movie, I was immediately excited. A Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic? I was totally down. However, I didn't know too much about Selma at that point, so I wasn't quite sure what angle they were planning on going with this. As it turns out, after hearing about the movie I took a class where we just happened to spend the majority of the semester discussing the civil rights era and as a part of that, I learned a lot more about the events that happened at Selma, Alabama, so my excitement for the movie increased. Follow that with all the Oscar buzz surrounding the movie and of course the insanely high reviews (a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 100 reviews counted as of the time of this review) and this was easily one of my most anticipated movies in a while. After two weeks of dancing around in limited release at the end of the year and the beginning of this one, it has finally made it's way to a nationwide release. I'm happy to report that it definitely lives up to all the hype. In fact, I would say that everyone needs to see this movie.

While I would still say that this could be considered a biopic of King, I would say that this is more accurately a movie about the events that happened in Selma. We don't follow King's whole life. We don't even follow the whole civil rights movement. This is a very focused movie that simply follows this period of a few months. If you were like me several months ago and aren't too familiar with Selma, allow me to set the stage without giving away this whole movie. It's 1965 and a lot of the major events that happened during the civil rights movement have already passed. President Lyndon B Johnson has recently passed the civil rights bill and although things are looking good, the fight for equal rights is far from over. At the beginning of the movie, we have Martin Luther King, Jr. talking with President Johnson about the next step that he feels is the top priority, that of giving blacks the right to vote. Technically they had this right already, but there were a lot of things standing in their way that made it so they really weren't allowed to vote and rarely if ever held public office. President Johnson realizes the importance, but doesn't feel he can make it a priority. With this in mind, King takes his battle to Selma, Alabama to try to make it happen. The events that happen here, which is what this movie is all about, are considered by many as a major turning point in the battle for civil rights.

This movie gets your attention right at the very beginning by depicting a very tragic moment. Although it slows down a bit after that intro, it picks up again very shortly and for most of the movie it remains very intense and emotional. What made it even more emotional for me was the fact that this all happened not very long ago. In fact, there may be many of you reading this review that were alive when all this happened As I was studying the civil rights last year, this was something that hit me pretty hard. This same sentiment hit me really hard during this movie as well, especially when we got to the march on Edmund Pettus Bridge. Holy cow was this sequence done well. I knew what was coming. As it was right about to happen, I almost completely lost it. So many feelings just hit me like a ton of bricks. How could an event like this happen? How is it that human beings could be treated this terribly by other human beings simply because of the color of their skin? And it's not like this was some event in the distant past. It was very recently. In fact racism still exists. People are unfairly judged all the time based on the color of their skin and it's downright terrible.

The timing of this movie is incredible. In the last few months we as a country have experienced events that prove that the battle against racism and equal rights is definitely very current. As you are watching this movie, you can't help but sit there and reflect on the recent events such as Ferguson that are going on and suddenly as you are doing so, the movie becomes a lot more than just a movie showing what happened 50 years ago. It becomes a very relevant work that is very much a reflection of our society in many ways. It doesn't just show us a battle that was won in the past. It reminds us that we still have a lot of work to do if Dr. King's vision of society is to ever become a reality. And as I was reflecting on all of this, suddenly when Dr. King is giving his speeches, I realized that he isn't just speaking to his audience in 1965. He is speaking directly to everyone sitting there watching the movie. I was just overcome by the whole experience.

What really made this work was an absolutely amazing performance by David Oyelowo (pronounced "oh-yellow-oh") as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I've really enjoyed Oyelowo as an actor. I got to know him in Jack Reacher and ever since then, I have enjoyed all the smaller roles he has done. But I feel, though, that this is his huge breakthrough role and he is incredible. What I found really interesting about this movie was that it didn't sugarcoat things when it came to Dr. King. Yes, he was a great leader, he was smart, he knew how to get things done, and he was an amazing public speaker, but he was also a human being. He made mistakes. He was very vulnerable at times. He had a lot of pressure on his shoulders and things were very tough for him at times. Oyelowo is great at showing both sides of this. I really enjoy it when an actor can completely disappear into a role and that's exactly what Oyelowo does. I didn't see him as an actor. I saw Martin Luther King, Jr. The best actor race is a tough one this year as several people have given performances deserving of the win, but I'm officially on board for Oyelowo to pull it off over all the others. That's how good I felt he was in this.

Overall, I think that Selma is a movie that everyone should see. If all the award buzz and strong reviews aren't enough to convince you to see it, I hope my personal recommendation can put you over the top. This is a movie that needs to be watched. It's an intense movie that is very emotional. Not only does it do a great job of showing these major events of the civil rights movement, but it also acts as a movie that shows us as a society how much work we still have to do if we are to fulfill Dr. King's dream. There's a lot of great things about this movie that I haven't been able to touch on, but I think the best part of it is the performance by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. Give that man the Oscar! So yes, go see this movie. Especially since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is coming up here in a few days. I'm giving Selma a strong 9/10.

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