Thankfully a film of the grace, humanity and understated gravitas deserving of Martin Luther King is here by the name of Selma.
It’s remarkable that besides a few television movies, documentaries and a 1999 animated educational film for children (Our Friend, Martin), there has been no feature films portraying the life of Martin Luther King. The task of capturing his remarkable achievements has been perhaps too daunting or maybe it is that typical Hollywood scenario in which projects are delayed endlessly until the stars (literally) align and countless rewrites and financial negotiations are finalised. Thankfully a film of the grace, humanity and understated gravitas deserving of MLK is here by the name of Selma. As the title suggests, it is a film that takes, as its focus, one pivotal segment of King’s life and the civil rights movement for which he fought so tirelessly. That moment in time is the series of non-violent protest marches from Selma, Alabama aimed at highlighting the inherent inequality of Alabama’s voting registration laws preventing black Americans political voice, judicial justice and self-determination. For all the politically astute detail in Paul Webb’s screenplay, it is the human element that renders the epic scale of events engrossingly immediate. The dignified portrayal of King by English actor David Oyelowo shows a man whose formidable socio-political convictions are tempered by self-doubt and familial concerns. He is also very much a leader surrounded by a strong and loyal group of similarly well-drawn minor characters. Bringing together the powerful performances and meticulously tight script is Ava DuVernay’s masterful direction. Her achievement is to resist the pat grandiosity or dutiful, reverential timidity that lesser directors may have succumb to. The history here has all the immediacy and relevance of events happening in America right now. Selma, like King, is a vital, powerful, intelligent and heartfelt force.