If you're looking for my thoughts on the controversy surrounding the snubbing of this film, scroll down towards the bottom. I'm gonna do the review first and that discussion second.
Selma (2014): A chronicle of Martin Luther King's campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
What a powerful piece of American cinema. While not without a few flaws, Selma is one of the best films of the year. It showcases a brief part of MLK's Civil Rights Movement that took place in Selma from 1964 to 1965. And it does this in spectacular fashion. Director Ava DuVernay creates a fantastic 128 minute movie that will, at several occasions, move you to tears. Without a doubt. I love this movie. David Oyelowo shines as the great Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rest of the huge supporting cast all bring their A games. The music is fantastic, the set design is perfect, and the cinematography is incredible. I honestly have one problem with this movie. However, it is a big one. The one problem I have with this movie is its depiction of President Lyndon B. Johnson. I will go much more into depth with this in the discussion, but I will say here that it is a very inaccurate portrayal of the president, and it honestly left me with a rather poor taste in my mouth. Yes, all history-based movies are allowed (and often do) take liberties with its source material to make the movie more dramatic. But, this movie goes VERY out of its way to tell you that LBJ was an incredibly racist president, and that he wanted to dismantle MLK, when in fact the exact opposite is true. That said, I want you to realize (before you go crazy on me) that this is only affecting my overall score by half a point. That's it. While the movie is not 100% perfect, it's damn close. So let's talk about how great Selma is, shall we?
First off, the acting. David Oyelowo. David. Oyelowo. He absolutely was snubbed for Best Actor even more so than Jake Gyllenhaal was for the spot. It's tough for a recognizable actor to play someone as recognizable as MLK and be completely absorbed into the role. But to say Oyelowo is absorbed playing MLK is an understatement. This performance of his is on the same level as the performance of Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln in Lincoln from 2012. It's that good. Then you have the supporting cast. Ready for this? (Deep breath) Carmen Ejogo. Oprah Winfrey. Tom Wilkinson. Giovani Ribisi. Andre Holland. Colman Domingo. Common. Dylan Baker. Wendell Pierce. Nigel Thatch. Cuba Gooding, Jr. Tim Roth. Martin Sheen. FREAKING MARTIN SHEEN. He's in two scenes! That's how amazing this film is. Someone as legendary as Martin Sheen is willing to come on the set for two days or something and say 5 lines just to be in this movie! And Tim Roth is great, too. You wanna talk about a tough, tough role to play as the racist and deplorable Governor Wallace. But Tim Roth fully embraces his responsibility and does not hold back in the slightest. Kudos to him. Not to mention the incredible African American supporting cast. Carmen Ejogo is awesome as Coretta King, MLK's wife. Her scenes with King in the privacy of their own home is just as powerful and gripping as the grand march on Selma itself. Truly inspiring work here in the acting department.
The rest of the movie is on point, as well. The music was fantastic. Common's Glory single over the end-credits is likely the favorite to win Best Original Song at the Oscars, similar to the Globes. The editing and cinematography were fantastic, as well. Though nothing to write home about, the cinematography mixes in an appropriate amount of wide pans and closeups to build tension while allowing you to understand where everything is. This is how every drama should be shoot. I also must talk about makeup. The makeup absolutely got snubbed. You could see every actor and actress had a very specific style for their makeup, including the makeup on MLK himself. I say the makeup and hairstyling had just as much to do with Oyelowo being absorbed into MLK as the performance itself did. Finally, I want to talk about lighting. This is something that I've really started noticing in the last few months, but the lighting here is some of the best I've seen. There was one specific scene involving a night march in Selma where the placing of the lighting did an incredible job of really setting the mood of the march. Kudos to the lighting department.
So, at the end of the day, you should see Selma. Despite some major historical inaccuracies. Because of these inaccuracies, I'm not going to predict that this movie will one day be shown in our children's high school American History classroom like I did with 12 Years a Slave, (which will absolutely still happen) but I will say that everyone who is connected to that time in American history should go out of their way to see this movie. It is an incredibly powerful piece on the Civil Rights movement. Easily one of the best movies of the year. Go see it.
The Critique: One of the best films of the year, Selma delivers a powerful and moving drama on the Civil Rights movement, despite some historical inaccuracies.
The Recommendation: A must-watch for all American history buffs and everyone who is connected to the Civil Rights movement in some way.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
Ok ready? Let's talk about all controversy surrounding the film.
Ok. So I wasn't sure I was going to talk about this or not, but after actually watching the movie I feel like it must be addressed. Yes. The Academy did snub Selma. Yes. The Academy absolutely should've nominated Ava DuVernay to the Best Director category (she would've been the first ever female African American to be nominated to this category) and David Oyelowo to the Best Actor category. To me these are as big a snubs as The Lego Movie not being nominated to Best Animated Feature and Jake Gyllenhaal also being overlooked for Best Actor. I'm sure we've all heard the stats at some point over the last week or so. In 2012, the Academy was 94% White, over 65% male, and the median age was 62. YA! OLD WHITE PEOPLE WOOT WOOT. We've heard this. You want to go ahead and say that the Academy is racist because of this and with no other evidence in mind, be my guest. That is your right. However personally, I am not as furious about the situation. I am upset, yes, but I believe there are a few other factors we should keep in mind when thinking about this situation that I would like to point out here. I hope you have stayed this long and will listen to the other side of the argument as well and then make your opinion based on all the information from both sides. (This is what our media should be doing but that is for another conversation at another time.) Two main things to think about. (I will include the direct links to the sources I'm about to quote down at the bottom) One: according to my favorite movie review show, What the Flick?!, which consists of some of the highest ranking movie critics in Hollywood as well as the Founder and CEO of Rotten Tomatoes, points out that the producers of Selma sadly dropped the ball in pushing this movie to the Academy. (Jump to 3:30 in the WTF video if you want to hear it straight from them.) The movie wasn't sent to everyone in the Academy in the weeks proceeding the nominations, and, combined with its very limited release at the very end of December and the fact that there weren't that many screenings of the movie made available in Hollywood, could very easily have led to a large amount of the Academy not seeing this movie before January 15. Cause sadly, I've got news for you: the people in the actor's guild and the director's guild and all the other guilds composing the 6,000+ members of the Academy are very busy during Oscar season. This is a perfect example of a movie showing up to the party entirely too late and nobody noticing that they're there.
Another thing that I want to bring up is how the movie portrays LBJ. I know I mentioned it briefly earlier, but I want to go more in depth into it now. The portrayal of LBJ sucks. It's not just historically inaccurate, it's flat-out untrue. To the point that I might not even recommend history teachers showing this movie to their classrooms. Here. Let me show a few viewpoints I found in researching this part of the article. This is from Bill Moyer, who, in 1964 and '65 was LBJ's Domestic Policy Advisor.
On the historical depiction of LBJ opposing MLK's march in Selma in the movie:
So he asked King to give him more time to bring Southern ‘moderates’ and the rest of the country over to the cause, but once King made the case that blacks had waited too long for too little, Johnson told him: “Then go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing.” [March on Selma]
On LBJ ordering J. Edgar Hoover to send a sex tape to the King's house:
There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the ‘sex tape’ to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.
On LBJ's speech proposing the Voter's Rights legislation:
Here the film is [also] very disappointing. The director [DuVernay] has a limpid president speaking in the Senate chamber to a normal number of senators as if it were a “ho hum” event. In fact, he made that speech where State of the Union addresses are delivered—in a packed House of Representatives. I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nation was electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama—of history happening right before our eyes.
Additionally, I came across another article confirming the first point made by Moyer from the viewpoint of Julian Bond, one of the main organizers of the Selma march. He also confirmed that LBJ encouraged Dr. King to go out there and march on Selma so he could get legislation going in Congress. (Skip to 0:52 in the video for his exact quote.) The impression this film gives off is the exact opposite of this.
One final point that I will make is this: both of my parents were alive and old enough to remember the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and the Selma march specifically, and they both agreed that LBJ was a major supporter of MLK from start-to-finish, as he was the one proposing many of these bills as soon as the country was ready for them. He did this from the view of being a "politician's politician" (which is sort of mentioned in the film) which meant keeping everyone in the room happy. He didn't want to propose new voter's registration sooner than Selma because he needed the Southern moderates to come on board, not because he was a horrible racist as the movie portrays.
Sadly, at the end of the day, Selma was snubbed at the Oscars. But I think this is more out of a series of unfortunate circumstances of the lack of an Oscar campaign for the movie from Paramount. The fact that they hadn't seen the movie by January 14, combined with the immediate controversy that came out back in December of the film concerning their very historically inaccurate portrayal of LBJ likely made the voters at the Academy shy away from giving the film more nominations. Not because they're a bunch of old racist White people. I hope I have helped to enlighten some of you reading/watching this so you will now have an informed opinion on this issue, before you jump to an immediate conclusion and start with the #OscarSoWhite stuff. Oh, and despite all of this, I am sticking with my prediction made back in November when I said Selma wins Best Picture. Because it absolutely still will. But I'll leave you with a great quote from my favorite film critic Alonso Duralde: "I think there are...[a few] things to keep in mind here. One, these [nominations] don't mean a f*cking thing.This is an annual Hollywood circle-jerk, and we will all forget who won in 6 months. It makes them [the Academy] feel better as it's this thing that's been hyped and we all talk about it all year long. But ultimately, it doesn't matter."
Peace out mofos.
Sources Used in Discussion
Ron Kathmann (18-19 in 1964-65) and Jean Kathmann (we'll keep her age private)
http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/is-selmas-portrayal-of-lbj-historically-accurate/ (viewpoints of LBJ and Julian Bond viewpoint)
http://inthesetimes.com/article/17537/bill_moyers_lbj_selma (Bill Moyer, LBJ's Domestic Policy Advisor and White House Press Secretary viewpoint)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnvXTZdRYY (What the Flick?! Discussion on nominations)
http://www.trbimg.com/img-5463c377/turbine/la-et-mn-afi-fest-selma-20141111 (cover photo)