Much like any other medium, film is often utilized in order to spread a political message to mass audiences. Whether it's in the form of a narrative-driven picture or a documentary is irrelevant. Sometimes, telling the story of a single human being has the power to inspire the world through the use of art. However, crafting such a message can be incredibly difficult within the span of around two hours, but some filmmakers have successfully started a conversation that have changed the minds of audiences around the globe. Director Ava DuVernay and first time screenwriter Paul Webb have crafted something that is so eerily relevant to modern times with a tremendously inspirational message. Nevertheless, it proves to be exceptionally inspiring and impactful.
Telling the story of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) as a political activist and a man, Selma focuses on one specific time of the civil rights movement. After deciding that Selma, Alabama is the perfect place to advocate for change, the legend has changed the United States for eternity. With the support of his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), he must overcome the most threatening of obstacles: the hateful ignorance of human beings. The entire nation is watching his every move, as he continues to fight for equality.
The active inequalities made against African Americans across this country are clear in both our history, as well as present times. Focusing upon a specific period of Martin Luther King's life, the next goal is for laws to be passed in support of every citizen receiving the right to vote, regardless of the color of one's skin. One of the first scenes in the city of Selma is of Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) once again attempting to receive the right to vote. It's a tense scene that sets the stage for the remainder of the film, as she's asked an assortment of incredibly unfair questions in order to receive what should be a right for all citizens. It's frustrating, eye-opening, yet incredibly impactful. King and his team are working towards fixing this for the community, but not everybody is in favor of him being in town. A bigoted mayor and sheriff, along with some violent fellow citizens do all in their power to stop these protests by beating them, and in some cases, killing them. The death of a young teenager sends waves throughout the African American community, as King has a personal struggle in dealing with the death of protestors that believe in his movement of peace and equality. Such injustices are sure to create a passionate advocate within each individual in the cinema, as each step in this strategic movement feels so immersive, since it's a part of our reality.
While the film certainly deals with Martin Luther King's peaceful fight against the racial hate of certain portions of the nation, Selma is largely about the man behind it all. He had a wife and children, who were also massively affected by the changes that King was trying to make. Coretta fears for her husband's safety, especially as tension escalates due to the issues that he's bringing to light. Even when he isn't home, she's left fearing for the lives of their children, as she receives death threats against them on a consistent basis. Webb's screenplay provides Coretta the spotlight in a monologue that is massively impactful. She vents at Martin, as she finally allows herself this moment to pour out all of the emotions that she has been forced to hide from the world. Webb proves that he's a master of dialogue, as he has crafted true character with the art of words. If the emotional sequences shared between Martin and his wife aren't enough to leave you with a lump in your throat, then something is wrong with you. Selma feels so incredibly intimate, that it's guaranteed to deeply affect viewers around the world. The film is already working with a brilliant historical figure, but what makes the screenplay so special, is that it has managed to make him feel like an ordinary human being with personal troubles and flaws. This makes him feel even more genuine.
Selma might be telling the story of Martin Luther King as both a man and an activist, although it has a lot more to do with modern times than one may think. This is a critical story for America, as racism continues to exist in various different forms for a wide array of communities. However, it reminds us of a man's alternative way to successfully changing the world. King discusses how retaliation and revenge won't benefit them, but fighting to change the discriminatory laws is what will put us on the path to equality. Utilizing peaceful demonstrations, Paul Webb's screenplay successfully delivers the intended message of tranquility. This could easily come off as being preachy, but the well-crafted dialogue and sympathetic roles allow for Selma to be genuine. You're guaranteed to leave the cinema feeling tremendously inspired to do good in the world, and that's the sign of a truly powerful piece of art.
If you think that DuVernay's film is going to be a one-trick Oscar pony, then you have another thing coming. David Oyelowo will surely be a serious Oscar contender for his portrayal of Martin Luther King. This is a transfixing performance that commands the attention of the audience. When he provides speeches, Oyelowo is tremendously captivating. Yet, he manages to capture the ever so subtle emotions found within the quieter scenes with perfection. This is the definition of an award-worthy performance. Carmen Ejogo is strong in the role of Coretta Scott King. Just when you think that she's going to remain on the side lines, she delivers a monologue that is so impactful, it just might be one of the main scenes that you'll remember walking out of the cinema. Ejogo is an outstanding casting decision here. Every supporting role present aids in delivering an immersive experience that will not soon be forgotten, including Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Wilkinson, and others.
When it comes to the look of Selma, the cinematography, costume design, and production design are what truly sell this picture. Director Ava DuVernay and cinematographer Bradford Young deliver an eye-catching visual display that proves to be massively successful. It captures the intensity found within the protest sequences, as well as the power in the more subtle scenes that truly aid in placing us within the mind of this man, who has become a legend. The costumes and the production design are true to this time period, as it feels as if we're watching it through a window on a time machine. John Legend and Common have teamed up in order to deliver an inspirational song titled "Glory." Currently nominated for a Golden Globe, this is a song that perfectly captures the tone that is being achieved.
Selma is inspiring, bold, and revolutionary. It has the possibility to affect audiences long after the credits are done rolling. While certainly an engaging narrative, this is a film that speaks to the activist within us all. We have the power to make a change, and Martin Luther King certainly set an excellent example. However, this is also a feature about the man behind the civil rights movement, as he was a real human being with flaws and stresses, just like anybody else. David Oyelowo is destined for Oscar gold in this fearless representation of a man who became a legend. The film manages to dodge many of the biopic clichés, allowing for a deeply impactful picture about equality, race, leadership, and courage. Selma is awe-inspiring and unlike anything else this year. Highly recommended!