Instead of an overarching biopic of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo), Selma focuses on a single campaign in the civil rights movement: the 50-mile protest marches that he led from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama in the certain knowledge that they would provoke state police and white supremacist posses into violence, and in the hope of thus provoking President Lindon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) into action on what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The fact that, in 2013, the Supreme Court repealed parts of this act that was so hard won, gives Selma unhappy modern-day resonance. It's a historical drama that speaks about now, with the same forcefulness and eloquence for which King's own oratory is famed.
It also explains the necessary intricacies of the US legal and political system without ever forgetting that politics are supposed to be about people and their right to self-governance.
Selma film stills
Selma film stills
British actor David Oyelowo stars as Martin Luther King in the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Oyelowo said he never received any backlash (to his face) about taking on the huge American role
Atsushi Nishijima/© MMXIV Paramount Pictures
Dr Martin Luther King Jr with his wife Coretta, who disagreed with the preacher being away from his family when protesting across the country
Martin Luther King and his followers stage a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama
After the president refused to make it unlawful for African Americans to be refused from the electoral register, MLK and followers embarked on a march from Selma to Montgomery
After news of the Selma march spread, other religious leaders who were not black joined the march in solidarity
Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/© MMXIV Paramount Pictures
Martin Luther King's wife was initially wary of the dangers involved in marching
But she then joined her husband and others on the march in solidarity
MLK's team from left to right: Andre Holland plays Andrew Young, Colman Domingo plays Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Omar Dorsey plays James Orange
Paramount Pictures, Pathe, and Harpo Films/Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima
In backroom discussions between Dr King and President Johnson, or between King and his colleagues in the SCLC, which all crackle with the highly charged energy of men who know that they are at the centre of history, we see King as an astute and, where necessary, ruthless tactician.
In scenes with his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), we see his charm and his strength of character, but feel the weight upon their marriage of his commitment to the cause and of the constant threat to their personal safety.
In the well-marshalled crowd scenes, we imagine that we can feel what drives each and every character. When the film shows baton blows raining upon them, we flinch. And when they stand together in unison and in triumph, we feel that too.Reuse content