March for freedom by Richard Jones

A look at Selma (M)…selma

SOME of the bravest people of the middle to late 1960s were the African-Americans of the USA’s deep south, struggling to win their right to vote.
Here in Ava DuVernay’s moving narrative Baptist minister Martin Luther King jnr is marshalling hundreds of ordinary Southerners in the little Alabama town of Selma.
The pivotal image is the Edmund Pettus Bridge with its rusty red stains which look ominously like blood. The bridge must be crossed because King (David Oyelowo), his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) and their multitude of supporters need to march across the river below if they want to walk to the state capital of Montgomery.
The movie opens with King struggling to adjust his tie as he prepares to go on stage to receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
By his side is Coretta who stands by him not just in Scandinavia, but back in the States where she has strong words with her husband’s radical rival, Malcolm X.
Coretta also confronts King at various key points during the story with his own infidelity.
King makes a few forays to the heart of his nation’s political power: Washington, DC.
In the national capital, cagey President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) wrestles with the politics of poverty and civil rights. Two or three times Johnson and Dr King meet in the Oval office and speak very bluntly and openly about the plight of African-Americans.
Meanwhile down south Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), who’s based in Montgomery, oversees the police and sheriff’s departments’ response to King and his non-violent supporters’ proposed march.
There’s a couple of nice little cameos from Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper who tries time after time – and always unsuccessfully – to place her name on the Alabama voters’ roll.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the “I Have A Dream” speech. That was delivered in Washington a year or two before the events depicted in this Alabama-centred movie are based.
Nevertheless Oyelowo as Dr. King is impressive in a few addresses delivered from the pulpit in a packed Baptist church.
Selma won this year’s Oscar for Best Original Song penned by hip-hop artist Common (who plays activist James Bevel in the movie) and John Legend.
Ironically the Edmund Pettus Bridge over which the marchers must pass was named for a local politician who was also a Ku Klux Klan leader.

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