In this new section, I will attempt to review a more recent film in 500 words or less. Think I can do it? That’s good, ‘cause I sure don't! Let’s go:
When making a period piece biopic on one of the most revered people in history, it’s hard to avoid pratfalls like lionising them to the point where they no longer feel human and not making it culturally relevant to modern day audiences. These are two problems that Selma passes over with grace and professionalism.
Set during the heights of Civil Rights Movement, Selma tells the tale of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and his historic march into Selma Alabama after a tragedy in the town ignites in the people the importance of being able to vote, a right stolen from African Americans at the time by unfair legal loopholes and scare tactics.
The movie plays out like an argument. It lays the groundwork, sets off the spark of discussions, returns the central points in retaliation, builds on these points to gain support, gains opposition and counter-measures, grows in strength, and eventually blows up until there is one victor. It’s a slow, epic crawl to the climax, which makes the first act a bit of a slog, but all the more worth is once the finale comes about.
The comparison between this and the recent race-related disputes that are currently playing out in America is pretty apparent. There are people playing down the damages, there are those excusing or even condoning the violence done, and there is no punitive measures brought up for these attacks. It paints a depressing reality that, despite King’s historic efforts, race and privilege are still a major, dangerous issue.
Having said that, it doesn’t paint it in a hopeless light either. Led by the perfect helm of Ava DuVernay, it tells a story parallel to the struggles of the time, but is used as a rallying call to stand up and fight for a brighter future. Just because it looks hopeless, violent or disparaging doesn’t mean you should give up.
Leading the charge is Oyelowo, who gives easily one of the best performances of the year so far. Oyelowo is both joyously inspiring, but also crafty and very human. Every pore of his body bleeds MLK, and he does the impossible by making him a very flawed, media-savvy and extreme man, ready to do what needs to be done to get the results needed. This all works to make him all the more inspirational, and he is the textbook example of how to do a historic figure in a biopic.
All in all, Selma is a powerful, beautifully told story that’s both a piece of historic text and relevant to this very day. Absolutely worth watching.