Selma makes sure it also shows the weaknesses of Martin Luther King

la_ca_1021_selmaBiopics tend to follow two paths: turn the lives of complex individuals into simplified, crowd pleasing narratives (think Braveheart)  or provide an honest portrayal of their subject: flaws intact.

Much to its credit, Selma falls into the latter camp. For a film with Dr Martin Luther King as its protagonist, the film is remarkably candid about its focus, making abundantly clear that the Civil Rights icon was was far from perfect. David Oyelowo as Dr King exemplifies this in one scene, when accused of infidelity by his wife, his response is a pathetic, shamed silence. Rather than turning the audience against King, this choice to show his weaknesses only makes his achievements all the more remarkable.

The film isn’t just about Dr King however. Taking as its focus the 1964 civil rights march from Selma to Birmingham, the seat of power for notorious racist state governor George Wallace, the violence enacted by police against the protestors is powerfully shown, staying within a 12a certificate through brutal sound design as truncheons thud and bones break.

Throughout all this it’s hard to ignore Selma’s prescience in 2015. One scene in particular portraying the police shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed African-American youth, tragically recalls the events of August 2014 in Ferguson. The filmmakers are only too aware of this and, following the euphoric success of the march, include a devastating postscript informing us of the violent deaths of many of the key players, ending the film on a melancholy note and evoking the progress still to be made. A powerful statement in a compelling film.

Peter Brearley

Image: Paramount Pictures

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