Films have focused on the struggle for civil rights in America, but none have done it quite as passionately as Selma.  Director Ava DuVernay seems determined to get this story right.  This is the farthest thing from a director phoning it in trying to get an Oscar nom.  DuVernay wantsneeds to tell this story.

selmaMartin Luther King, Jr. led the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and he leads this film too.  David Oyelowo (who made an impact in last year’s The Butler) gives a spectacular performance as MLK.  It’s a tall task to have the power and presence of the iconic leader, but Oyelowo does it.  Especially in his big speeches, David is captivating on screen and he inspires a movement.

The greatest thing about Selma is, as the title suggests, this isn’t MLK’s story.  This is the story of a community, so there’s lots of actors in bit roles that get standout moments.  Oprah Winfrey makes an impact as Annie Lee Cooper, a woman who is determined to register to vote in her town.  Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King, Martin’s wife, and she has a poignant scene where she talks about the struggle to live with death constantly threatening to knock down your door (and also about MLK’s reported infidelities).  Tom Wilkinson is great as President Lyndon B. Johnson, giving an appropriate perspective of the White House during the conflict.  It’s not just big-name actors that gets moments either.  Playing a father who is grieving over his son, Henry G. Sanders will break your heart in his showcase scene.

Selma is a visceral film experience that will surely have an effect on you.  Its ties to the struggle now, with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, give it even more weight, and helps you have a deeper understanding of what a risk these people took to “make things right”.  John Legend and Common recorded the fantastic (and now-Golden Globe-winning) song, “Glory”, for the end credits and that connects the events of the past to present day masterfully. Every step they took could have been their last, but they knew the moment was bigger than them.

Selma is a film not to be missed.  It expertly showcases the power of humanity, and it’s presented with the utmost care by the filmmaker and cast.

Grade:  A

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