Movie Review: Selma

I saw Selma a few weeks ago now, so some of it has faded. But I think my overall impressions are still what’s here.

I thought David Oyelowo was a charismatic and likeable protagonist who anchored the film well; he definitely filled the role. I also liked Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King; ironically, I felt like she was among the most well-defined beyond her relationship to MLK compared to other characters.

The Selma protests showed up briefly in high school US history, but I don’t really remember it. And haven’t learned about it outside of that, either. That probably says plenty of things about high school US history and about me.

In the end, I felt like it was a good, solid movie. But it didn’t blow me away.

Maybe the story isn’t for me. I definitely support showing having more movies with non-white casts.1 But I still didn’t come away feeling like it’s a must-see film.

However, it is very timely. The state trooper lynch mob on the far side of the bridge? Looked an awful lot like Ferguson. And for the record, part of why Ferguson blew up in the news was mentioned in the movie: “Is he Laurie Pritchett, or is he Bull Connor?”

Unfortunately, I don’t think the movie will change anyone’s mind. Anyone who already believes in the value of protests will continue believing in them; anyone who doesn’t won’t be convinced by the marches in the film.2 Anyone who already believes black lives matter will continue believing this; anyone who doesn’t won’t be convinced by Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death on the screen. Anyone who already knows that these problems still continue today will continue believing this; anyone who doesn’t will continue to ignore it.

I expect at least some people to disagree with this opinion of the film.

There’s been a bit of minor controversy from people insisting that Johnson was unfairly portrayed as the bad guy, or that the movie didn’t give him enough credit. For my part, he seemed a perfectly normal moderate politician who came through in the end—that is, “what are you complaining about?” Maybe he was friendlier to the cause in real life, and it’s true that like The Imitation Game this movie has a good chance of becoming the popular understanding of Selma and the Voting Rights Act. But if that’s your only complaint about the movie, well, then, that’s pretty good, isn’t it?

(The real John Lewis wrote a short editorial for the LA Times on this.)

  1. During Gone Girl I kept thinking how both of them have a fair amount of privilege, despite losing their jobs, and that everyone was very white. ↩︎

  2. There’s a reason a usual protest chant is “No justice, no peace!”. It took me a long time to grok that. ↩︎