Review

SELMA – The DREAM is Alive!

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One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come here to justify
One man to overthrow

In what may be one of the best portrayals of an heroic leader ever, the movie SELMA shows us much about Dr. Martin Luther King by bringing to life a story that took a very short time to unfold in real life. In fact, this is one of the brilliant choices made in bringing SELMA to the big screen: to keep the story focused and short. By staying away from the option to tell a story more about Dr. Martin Luther King, which until now has not really been brought to the movie theaters, we actually experience a piece of his life with great depth and appreciation.

The truth is…
The world pivoted in Selma, Alabama in March of 1965.
African Americans stood up for the right to vote.
Dr. Martin Luther King led the charge… peacefully.
President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to dodge the issue (but, eventually stepped up to the plate).
Governor George Wallace and others in Alabama tried to squash the efforts.
It was a real life drama, one of the earliest, that played out in front of TV cameras.

I was a grade-schooler in the 60’s.
Because of Dr. King and others waging the fight for Civil Rights, I (a white kid growing up in the suburbs) was taught that we should be color blind, that we were all equal, and that we should all love one another.
I remember the Watts Riots in ’65.
I remember standing in my front yard in Downey, looking toward Firestone Boulevard and west, seeing the sky ablaze.
I was too young to really get what was happening, and my dad was too stuck in the past to help me break it down.

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

The story behind the making of Selma goes, that leading man David Oyelowo had known about the script for the movie for several years before it ever got made. And, he’d actually taped an audition of himself playing the part of MLK because the desire to play the icon so greatly motivated him. Then comes Oprah Winfrey, and Oyelowo gets her excited about the story, and eventually Brad Pitt gets behind the movie as well.

The net result: a movie so compelling that it brings history to life and makes it real and present. It glorifies the story of a man who is a monumental figure and humanizes him all at the same time. Selma is not a Hollywood special-effects laden spectacle. It is a blockbuster of human triumph.

The performances by David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Carmen Elogo as Coretta Scott King are outstanding. It’s very common to see even the best of actors portray a larger than life figure as a caricature rather than a character. Maybe that happens out of respect for how we see or remember heroes. But, in Selma, Oyelowo and Elogo succeed completely in showing us multiple facets of Dr. King and Mrs. King while preserving our respect for them, what they accomplished, and with a degree of regality. To say that these performances showed depth is accurate but inadequate.

Oprah Winfrey portrays voting rights pioneer Annie Lee Cooper with an historic perspective and understanding that there is much more at stake here than a good performance. This movie is an historical recounting of what happened… to preserve, and pass on.

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But perhaps the most outstanding achievement in making this film is that of director Ava DuVernay. The nuances she brings to nearly every scene make the story fresh and real today. Her portrayal of the human condition, whether it be a key player or a fleeting role, shows incredible attention to detail while keeping the story moving. Another worthy note is the job done by cinematographer Bradford Young. I especially appreciated the terrific lighting, use of color and several scenes that are very dark and moody. Neither DuVernay nor Young have long resumes, but they both have done incredible jobs that ensure we will see more from them.

 

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Selma will undoubtedly receive several Oscar nominations this coming week.

But, beyond awards, I hope that the timely message and story in Selma speaks loud and clear from Los Angeles to Miami and from Ferguson to New York City.

The lessons of my youth may have proven more fraught with complications than I believed they would be. That said, I hold dear to the lessons taught.
And the fact is, I have not lived the life that African Americans in Selma did.

But I remember 1968 well.
It still is the most tumultuous year I have lived through and experienced.
And, it included the assassination of Dr. King.

Early morning, april four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

 

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The Dream didn’t die with him, and SELMA makes sure the Dream is rekindled a new.
I, for one, will be taking my kids to the movie theater to see Selma to ensure that understanding, intelligence, and the love of God that pierces mankind and all understanding will be passed on.

In the name of love
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love
What more in the name of love?

I’d like to hear your thoughts!! Please comment below.

CCM Founder & Executive Producer

Doug Rittenhouse

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