Selma (2014) Directed by Ava DuVernay

2016 has started like an extended funeral service for some great artists of the last 50 years or so. Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman all gone within a week or so of each other. My social media streams were filled with sympathy and tributes. Personally, all these deaths of people I didn't know have affected my mood and covered all thoughts with a shroud of sadness. Bowie's death was the most shocking to me and the one I felt the most.  January 10th, 2016 really feels like a day when the world of possibilities came to an end. An artist who affected change and had the vision to infiltrate the mainstream with genuine weirdness and distinct personality, Bowie feels like the last of his kind (and maybe he was the only of his kind). As mass consumerism and commodity are well established as channels of communication, Bowie reminds us that NOT ANY Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane can be something special. In some ways, special is the feeling I got from watching Selma, and the story of one of Martin Luther King's most challenging episodes.

David Oyelowo convinces with his portrayal of Martin Luther King
There has been a revisionism over the last 50 years, certainly in an alternative (not the establishment) white media to portray Martin Luther King as being not militant enough, of applying appeasement to ease through and establish some basic human rights. Malcolm X has carried the flag for black radicalism and some of his criticism of King has rubbed off into these future times (certainly for a white audience). Neither man is around to address this state of play, Selma even offers a passage where X feels a sense of responsibility about his criticism of King, an atonement in fiction if you like. Selma does readdress this long held view of King's apparently weak non-violent position and it's welcome. In some ways Selma is so much about how much violence can we take and about re-appropriating King's militancy through peaceful protest. Selma is powerful, supremely shot and well acted (especially David Oyelowo as King). Selma not only shows events from a black perspective but is also excellently directed by a black woman (Ava DuVernay). It's amazing that in 2016 this is such a statement in itself and perhaps highlights that we haven't come so far since the events of Selma.

Oprah Winfrey is excellent in a small role
Selma also pays service to how powerful establishment institutions react to figures such as King who push for change and justice when there isn't any. The American president of the time, Lyndon B Johnson, portrayed diligently by Tom Wilkinson here, considers a view to remove King from the picture, as King's growing influence and power becomes dangerous to the status quo. It's a theory James Ellroy explores in his mighty Underworld Trilogy USA, that King's militancy and rabid sexual appetite is what ultimately does for him. Selma isn't perfect, the portrayal of King's wife, Coretta Scott King is simplified as she merely accepts his extra-marital associations and supports her husband in a time of duress. None of the white figures are given much depth (but to be honest, the focus here is squarely put on King). But Selma had a profound effect on me. I was on the verge of tears virtually the whole time I watched this. Racism is ever present in our lives now, our tolerance of the other is non-existent (exemplified by the recent refugee crises). In the last few years a new wave of right wing thinking has predominantly taken over the mainstream discussion, a non-inclusive politics is prevalent. These attitudes have not only become tolerated, they have become the accepted norm as we've seemingly given up on being fair and equal societies.

Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) is short changed in Selma
Selma is a timely reminder that we need figures like Martin Luther King more than ever, a voice of reason and principle kicking against a tide of hateful dogma. You could say that King's struggles paved the way for the great Barack Obama, but there is a feeling Obama is too shackled by the compromised duties of presidency. Still I appreciate the effort. Selma in its simple way reminds us of what we should not tolerate and how we should best react in times of unreasonable conflict. It's as much a movie about today as a picture of a man who made a difference.

Lately we have fallen out of habit again and into a pit where I watch stuff alone and Nick does the same. I blame The Affair obsession I had over Christmas. We will have to do better in order to have something to report. I came up with the idea of listing every single movie and series and documentary we both watch this year and keeping the lists up on this site, so we can refer back and see our viewing habits. I don't know why, but I think something interesting might come out of that listing effort. Especially as so much of what we watch these days we do not watch together and therefore we don't review here.

Martin Luther King and David Oyelowo as him in Selma
Selma was one of the first movies we watched this year. Even though it was a fictional film, real life kept seeping in – most of the time it was as if I was watching a documentary. This is mostly because of the subject matter; the political history and personal history of how Martin Luther King and his partners fought for the black people's right to register to vote in Southern USA. The movie was touching, interrupting, angering and inspiring. It reminded me of how important it is to fight for what's right. As did this video the other day about being ANTI instead of NON.

David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo in Selma
Racism is still institutionalized in 2016, despite the efforts of people like King (and countless others who have given their lives in the fight). It is in the structures. Racism makes people unequal, it makes living hellish and sad, it directs action and prevents action, it is wrong. In fact right now it seems that there is an atmosphere on the planet that allows hateful talk (and action) more – hatred fuels politics, but it seems to be burning bright amongst all kinds of people. As large amounts of humans are displaced, go hungry, are poor and homeless, others with privilege turn a shoulder and comment online with fear and anger. What is wrong with us? The fact is that the time Selma depicts is not that far away from us historically and metaphorically speaking. This is the sad truth that kept interrupting my thoughts while watching Selma. The acting in this important movie was excellent. David Oyelowo was amazing in the role of Martin Luther King, as was Carmen Ejogo who played his wife.


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