by | Jul 25, 2015 | 0 comments

The Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. Doesn’t Dissapoint

Biographic films are mostly unsuccessful. The majority of directors take a path that follows the person of subject from his or her childhood years up to his or her death. This approach is generally boring and makes the film seem long, to the point that you’re praying he or she finally dies. And in the end that type of film accomplishes what a book does: state facts; it never fully lets you see the person of subject in a humane and intimate way. In 2012 Steven Spielberg took a different approach to the biographic film style with his film Lincoln. Spielberg focused on a key moment in the 16th President’s life. In Selma, female director Ava DuVernay, takes that same approach, looking at Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to have president Lyndon B. Johnson pass the Voting Rights Act. Through it we see a celestial figure of American history opened up and analyzed in a warm and personal way.

Selma is the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) strikes up a march for Voting Rights in the Alabamian city of Selma. King’s objective is to have a Voting Rights Act passed in Congress that would protect colored voters in the South from being barred from voting booths. The problem is clearly explained in one shocking scene in which producer Oprah Winfrey cameos as a woman registering to vote. The man in the registering booth is very reluctant and proceeds to first obligating her to recite the preamble of the United States Constitution. The woman proceeds in doing so impeccably, but the man, infuriated, then asks how many county judges the state of Alabama has. She again answers correctly and the man proceeds in asking her to name them. The scene doesn’t take up five minutes of the film, but it’s power and portrayal of injustice perfectly highlights the problem and basis of Selma; a problem, which has not dissipated today.

Selma begins as a political drama, similar to House of Cards, with King flying everywhere to negotiate and give speeches, in churches to the general public and with President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). As the story progresses, we see the tone meld into a more violent drama. You can actually see (or rather hear) this change in the actors’ voices. Yes, their tones switch from a Shakespearean clarity and formality at the beginning of the film to a more depressed mumbling. This oral phenomenon was a subtlety that was delightful to find.

Actor David Oyelowo had previously appeared in extremely small roles in The Butler and Lincoln; in Selma he was, finally, able to show his amazing skills, being constantly in control of the scene. The Brit perfectly replicates King’s unique voice and even his physical features were spookily similar. But Oyelowo’s great accomplishment is in the way he humanized King, with extremely simple actions, like bending down and changing a trash bin’s bag, or in staring into space at loss and confusion.

However, not everything was perfect in the film. The greatest drawback is how long the film finally feels. Even though the film is only two hours, it feels much longer. There are various factors that contribute to this. One is the long pauses that the actors take between speaking their lines. While this helps the audience digest Paul Webb’s well-written script, it makes the pace of the film seem dragging and eternal. Another factor that could have contributed to this lengthy feel is the amount prompting endings the film has. The film seems to be at its perfect resolution scene many times so that the tempting finales, end up being a little annoying.

However, the drawback is not enough to debacle DuVernay’s beautiful tribute to King. It was surprising at first to see that one of the greatest American figures didn’t have his own movie yet. But this was because King’s sons and daughters’ legal battle over copyright. After directors like Steven Spielberg, Stephen Frears, Paul Haggis, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Michael Mann were scared off, DuVernay willingly embarked on a fight for King’s script rights. And, slyly, through the tweaking of King’s speeches, switching out word, she was able to save herself paying for the rights of both King and his speeches. This would be a perfect place to say: behind every great man there is a strong woman.



Lead Performance


Historical Accuracy


Social Relevance

What is your favorite biopic? Let me know in the comments section.

Our Newsletter


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This