Friday, 16 January 2015


Selma, 2014
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Original Song)

Seeing Selma the day that Oscar nominations came out, with people's complaining about snubs extremely fresh in my mind was maybe not the best idea. It meant that I was focused on how good the acting was, the directing, the screenplay, etc, and wondering whether I'll walk out outraged at all the snubs or just shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head at the claims of racism when really the film just didn't deserve nominations.

I think I met somewhere in the middle. Selma is a good film with a moving story. It has moments of greatness and moments that move you. But the whole is not the sum of it's parts.

The film launches us into the life of Martin Luther King Jr. He's already extremely well known and has made a lot of progress. He's winning the Nobel Peace Prize and meets with the President (and is isn't his first time, clearly). The film makes no attempts to try to explain what has happened before this point. It simply launches you into what's happening right now. And what's happening right now is that King has met with President Johnson. Johnson has signed an act to end segregation and blacks legally have the right to vote. However, they still aren't allowed by their local voting offices to even register to vote. However, Johnson says this is not what he can focus on right now and this issue will have to wait. Displeased, King decides to move his cause to Selma, Alabama and to lead a march to gain equal voting rights.

This chapter in King's life seems a complex one. The entire cause they are fighting and the use of non-violence is very complex. And the film doesn't hold back from showing all the webs that are weaved and all the little things that need to happen before things can change. However, the film almost tried to show too much. It went back and forth from showing King as a man and as a figure. We get more casual scenes of King with his wife and their marital issues, but these scenes seem to be disconnected from the rest of the film, from the scenes involving the march and his meetings. In those moments, King is more of a figure, though one who has tough decisions to make. But the scenes (save one) with Oprah felt forced and unnecessary.

As well, the main thing I took away from this film was that it tried very hard to be important, impactful and emotional. There are so many scenes that have this unecessary use of slow motion that I know was supposed to make us feel emotional about what was happening. But I felt the moments leading up to that, or just after, were always more effective. The moments of utter chaos during the marches were more effective than the tearful speeches or the slow motion of the cops beating or shooting someone and them falling to the ground. Just seeing literally the utter brutality and chaos of what happened, untouched, is the most moving. But DuVernay just tried too hard, a few too many times. Her work was really great when it wasn't focused on just one thing, but the picture as a whole. Had DuVernay stepped back and left it more natural, I think I would've actually been moved more.

That's not to say the film wasn't effective, though. It had some extremely well done scenes, most of these being King's speeches at the church, particularly during a funeral and at the end of the film. David Oyelowo excelled during the various speeches he gave. They were delivered with such passion and vigor that I could feel myself just really getting angry all over again about how terribly the White South treated the black community. There were several scenes that were actually extremely moving, and were minimally touched and forced. The phone message scene, the night march, the marches on the bridge, etc. There were snippets of greatness and of overall potential to be overall great. As well, some of the supporting characters (who I can't name because a lot of people weren't introduced, so therefore started to blend together as they all held similar roles in the film). Carmen Ejogo was really great as King's wife. She was married to such a controversial figure, and while I felt the film either should've just touched on this a lot more or a lot less, Ejogo was such a force.

But the Selma snubs... were they really snubs? My big problem with the movie is that I enjoyed it and was moved by it, but was it really better than some other films that were nominated? As mentioned, I felt DuVernay just tried too hard and often got in the way of actual emotion, instead of manufactured ones. Her "snub" I don't consider a snub. While I don't think Tyldum was a particularly great choice for director, I'd still put people like David Fincher over both of them. As well, David Oyelowo was fantastic, but I still preferred Ralph Fiennes, as well as Cumberbatch, Redmayne and Keaton (I have not seen Cooper or Carell's performances... yet). Again, it did so many things really well, but I'm not sure they did it better than the films that were nominated or even some of the films that were also snubbed.

Overall, Selma is a good movie. It's one I left feeling mixed about because of the lack of nominations still heavy in my mind and watching the movie extremely critically and waiting to be blown away so that I could join the outrage. Selma is a good film. And probably one that can be shown in history classes alongside 12 Years A Slave. It made me extremely frustrated by all the racism that happened back then, something I can't even begin to understand. Racism is something I truly do not understand why people would think these certain ways and deny people basic rights. We are all the same, we are all equal. I don't understand why this is so difficult for people to understand. And the film did that effectively. This film tells an important story, a chapter in King's life. There was extraordinary potential to be overall great, but there were a few moments too many of overstepping and manufactured moments of emotion But it's a film that more had moments of greatness than actual overall greatness.


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