Many of the most important and famous people throughout history have been subject of a biopic. Some of the most successful include American Splendour, The Aviator, La Vie en Rose, Raging Bull, The Elephant Man and I’m Not There. Political figures are also well-represented – JFK, Gandhi, Nixon, Milk and Malcolm X, to name but a few. Selma isn’t a biopic as such. More a snapshot in time of Martin Luther King Jnr.’s life, and a pivotal moment in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Shortly after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) heads to Selma, Alabama to tackle the problem of Negroes being able to vote. Despite President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) passing a law giving everyone the right to vote, registering is easier said than done in the South. Despite his wife’s (Carmen Ejogo) misgivings, he arrives in Selma with Ralph Abernathy (Colman Doming), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), James Orange (Omar Dorsey), and Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson) and meets up with local activits. They plan on marching to the state capital, Montgomery. However, Governor Wallace (Tim Roth) has no intention of letting that happen.
Selma is powerful and clever film. By focussing on one event in the Civil Rights Movement, director Ava DuVernay manages to encapsulate the whole struggle in a snapshot. We also get a feel of the inner turbulance faced by Dr King without having to watch his life story.. It’s odd to see so many British actors in such a very American film, but they’re all excellent (particularly Wilkinson and Ejogo). DuVernay takes a few liberties with the facts in terms of the relationship between Dr King and President Johnson. However, as she attests, this is not a documentary but historical fiction. Without shouting from the treetops, Selma is a quietly powerful and profound study of a man and a movement.
Selma is out in cinemas now.