Thursday, February 5, 2015

Black History Month: Film Review: Selma

I went to see this movie twice, so I could process the intense experience. It is a nuclear explosion of truth, now more than ever. Why is this film so powerful? Why won't this film receive the kudos it deserves? I considered these questions.

The performances by the actors were superior. David Oyelowo captured the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and the cross MLK had to bear. The female characters demonstrated such grace under pressure. The costumes of all actors reflected careful dignity (similar to the custom of dressing for church many black churches still uphold.) The sets are careful and accurate, the dialog just enough. All the actors portraying these well known figures, as well as the families and just folks, reveal in their eyes the noble determination of choice each had to make to remain resilent and be willing to die for their cause in the name of respecting who you are. And the actors' eyes also reflect the sadness, and the fear. The 'less said' style of dialog brings power to the film, for example. in the scene when MLK comforts a grieving family member.

The movie is filmed in such a way keeps us inescapably in the action, emotional turmoil, when you desperately want to hide, find a safe place. But there isn't one. Then you must think higher level thoughts at the top of Bloom's Taxonomy until you are almost dizzy. It is 1965, all right, and it is also 2015 at the same time.

So, why so little recognition?

Many of us lived through this time period.

The violent American experience of the Civil Rights Movement was, at the very least, brought to us by CBS News and Walter Cronkite. But being aware of the fire hosing of demonstrating kids and grandparents along with police dog attacks, and the bombing of the church with little girls in it, and the lynchings, and the murders--it is a different non-intellectual experience on the news or in the history lesson than the emotionally engaging drama on the screen, especially in this film. They say our brains can't delineate personal experience from drama or reading fiction. In 'Selma' we are in that bomb blast with those little Sunday School girls. We're beaten with grandpa and the pastor from Boston. We debate the finer intellectual points of voting rights with Dr. King and colleagues. We go to church and choose nonviolence. We acknowledge the threat, are beaten and arrested. We choose to march anyway. We are strong, intelligent, determined, powerful without violence. We are black. We are family. We are Selma.

But in all honesty, in  heart of hearts, some Americans admired the baseball bat with barbed wire...and still do.

The truth doesn't just hurt, it points an accusing finger.

This film will make many folks very uncomfortable. Not just the true racists, but the subtle racists who stereotype kids in hoodies, hate rap music and even R & B, share biased cartoons on FB, and have a quiet dislike of black people--even when they are in the White House (or maybe because they are in the White House.)
'Selma' highlights the educated intelligence and eloquence of the Civil Rights leaders and community activists, the strength of the black church, the families willing to demonstrate and maybe be injured and die. For their dream. For their America.
Recent demonstrations have posters that state 'Black Lives Matter.' In 2015, why do we have to be reminded? Why is the image of racism still on American faces like the pictures of hatred when the Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock Central High School? Why are we still concerned about police profiling?
This is why 'Selma' is so potent--many of the lines written about events fifty years ago could be written for events last year.

Is this movie unfair to LBJ?
Let's forget for a moment the Founding Fathers did not eradicate slavery in the Constitution when John Adams lead the debate to do so, and many of the first presidents were slave owners. And out of respect for the Presidency, I won't go into Thomas Jefferson's relationship with slaves. Let's not even be surprised with LBJ's documented use of the 'n' word. He was from the South, negotiating with Wallace. Again, as a courtesty I will state that I don't believe the last six presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama) were or are persons who used racial slurs.  But let's recall that LBJ was a proponent of Civil Rights from his early days in Texas politics; Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were Civil Rights supporters, so LBJ was part of the pattern. That's part of why JFK chose him as a running mate. The 1964 Civil Rights Law, which he signed into law, was a culmination of years of work from the Civil Rights Advocates, as well as politicians. But was LBJ somehow denigrated in this film, which is concerned with only one segment of the Civil Rights Movement? It seems LBJ fans wish to elevate him to Dr. King's status in this affair. But he doesn't rate that. Did LBJ get the Nobel Peace Prize? It is true LBJ had his hands seriously full after JFK's assasination and the Vietnam War. However, he did lead the Congress to the voting legislation using his political skills. Personally, I think closing with LBJ's speech for Voter's Right was monumental, and a fair kudo to him. It is a privilege to post a link of  LBJ's Speech in entirety here:

Lyndon Baines Johnson
Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Voting Legislation
"We Shall Overcome"
delivered 15 March 1965, Washington, D.C.

Will 'Selma' Make Racial Polarization Worse in America?
This film will shine light on where we are now, and where we need to go. It is uncomfortable, no two ways about it, whether you are a fan of MLK or not. I expect this film will help solve racial problems by acknowledging those who marched with MLK were from every demographic, and those who carry on are, too.

BTW, President Obama has stated he will dedicate himself after the Presidency to helping disadvataged youth with the 'My Brother's Keeper' program.
  “That’s what ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is all about. Helping more of our young people stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works – when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.”

- President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014

Go to the website to see how you can participate.

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