Nominations - Best Picture, Best Original Song
In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in a campaign to secure equal voting rights. He fights, but with words, not with violence. He tries to convince President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass the Bill for equal rights. He tries to bring to the attention of the black people, as well as to the state, that people of colour are being assaulted for no reason, other than for their colour. That they are being denied their rights in southern states for no reason, other than for their colour. He is an engaging, charismatic speaker; a former preacher with a dedication to his people.
Many obstructions come in the way. The greatest obstacle is bigoted Alabama governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), who lets his hate get the better of him.
Throughout 'Selma', we are subject to many atrocities committed by the police and the government against the peaceful black protesters. There are innocents beaten and brutalised and killed. This was a time in history that no one wants to remember. But director Ava DuVernay is one of many directors bringing important black stories back to mainstream media. She gives us a rounded view of the events surrounding the march. The President's initial bias, and his consequent change of heart when he witnesses the brutality. The sycophants that pander to the hate-mongering; the strategising of the SCLC and the many protests and the outcomes of the same.
No one is painted pure evil (okay, Wallace is, but then that's just who he was, I guess), neither are they treated as perfect. Not even King is devoid of imperfections under the lens of DuVernay.
The film has a plethora of known faces, all of whom contribute to the overall picture. There is solidarity throughout, and we see through Oyelowo's performance just how magnetic King really was. Oyelowo deserved a nomination for his efforts. This was not an easy role to take, but he embodied all that was spectacular about King as a leader. His tears, his determination, his powerful speeches. The intonations and mannerisms were like watching the real man. It is a travesty, a real travesty, that the Academy felt it necessary to ignore a black actor's superb portrayal of an icon in favour of at least two bland and generic roles. I hope that this is the stepping stone that Oyelowo needed to kick his career into high gear. And that there are several nominations and wins awaiting him in the future.
The beauty throughout this film is that it tugs at your heartstrings without trying to. DuVernay is cruel in that she employs slow-mos during the most wretched scenes.
[HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD]
From the very start, a peaceful group of frolicking children are blown to smithereens in slow-motion. Later, during a peaceful protest at night, the police attack the protesters. We follow the Jacksons, led by youngster Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield). They escape the police and head to a nearby restaurant in hopes of avoiding the retaliation. No such luck, the police find them, beat the grandfather and shoot Jimmie Lee. This was one of the most distressing scenes in the entire film. I had to pause and compose myself while watching it. It was brutal, not because we didn't know something like this might happen, but because they didn't know. The director slows down the scene not during the beating or the shooting, but during the aftermath - as Jimmie's body falls to the floor and his mother cries in vain. It was heart-breaking.
This was a beautiful film, not because it was fun and happy or had brilliant cinematography, but because it told us the story behind one event, and it told it to us from different points of view. The film felt like a book, covering every inch of the tale. There were long poignant speeches; serene marches set to hip and evocative songs. The soundtrack is upbeat, because the people, despite their circumstances, had to hope. King had to hope.
A woman was behind this film? You could never tell the difference between her work and last year's 'The Butler' or '12 Year A Slave'. But what I loved about 'Selma' was that it didn't hit you like a police baton, it just presented the events to you. It made the characters real, even the insignificant ones. There were moments of joy, some moments of humour. Most of the time though, you'd be watching this film through tears (of joy or sorrow, depends on the scene). This is, so far, the best Oscar film I have seen, yet it has nary a chance of winning. It has been ripped of all its nominations because the injustices showcased in the film continue today. Sitting here, writing this log, just makes me wonder what the point of art is today, if it cannot be recognised for what it is supposed to be doing - making the world a better place.
My one concern about black films nominated by the Academy is that they appear to be filling in a quota. The above mentioned films are all great. But, while we celebrate the sacrifices of the past, have we forgotten the stories of the present? What happened to the story of the average black person living in today's world? Where are those films? We need films that cast black and coloured actors, set across the globe, and still continue be great and continue to be nominated. We need films to be a commentary on race, without being only about race. People of colour should no longer be filling a quota - they're here to stay, and they're here to tell their diverse stories.
'Selma' is a great film, a testament to the sacrifices of the past, the grand abilities of female directors and a huge stepping stone for Oyelowo. I hope that it wins its sole big award on February 22nd. It truly deserves it.