Why absolutely everybody should see Selma

I loved Selma. I loved everything about it. I loved that it took such a crucial historical event and brought it to life. I loved that it didn’t implement the Hollywood convention of a “white man savior” in a movement that didn’t have one. I loved that there were female characters like Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), who actually got a major role.

I loved that the cast’s composition was mostly black actors, because mainstream films about African American History inappropriately feature far too many white characters. I loved the acting, the cinematography and the rawness behind every moment and the fact that I sat on the edge of my seat with my hand over my mouth for about half of the film. What I didn’t love was the realization that the “happy ending” we all craved right before the credits hit is something we are still waiting for, some 50 years after the events of the film.

Selma is resonant today not only because the Civil Rights Movement is a large part of our country’s history, but also because the acts of violence in the black and white news broadcasts of the 1960s are practically indistinguishable from the ones that are happening in full color at the very moment. Before all else, Selma reminded its audiences that Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries started a job that we have yet to finish. The film was a call to action as much as it was a great memorial piece in honor of the Selma marchers.

Past its political importance, Selma achieved great measures in terms of cinematography and storytelling. The film was beautiful in its composition of scenes and depiction of power: the camera looked up at King (David Oleyomo) whenever he spoke to his peers and followers, representing his role as a leader, and stayed at eye level or looked down at him when he addressed President Johnson and other prominent politicians. Director Ava DuVernay used photography’s “rule of thirds” as a means by which to emphasize important aspects of each shot, setting King in the front third of a frame while an American flag in the Oval Office practically pushes him out of the picture as Johnson denies his request for a bill to help African Americans register to vote. Two of the most important conversations in the film are when King talks to a fellow protester in their prison cell after being arrested by a Selma officer, and when King is assertive with Johnson about the importance of black votes. In both of these scenes, the two characters are positioned exactly on the thirds lines, balancing the shot aesthetically while placing the figures on the same level as though to equate their power.

One of the most notable, unconventional aspects of this film is its depiction of violence. Instead of portraying the brutal events as some kind of climactic cinematic moment with fake blood and slow-motion footage over sad instrumental music, the violence was raw and heart-stopping.

Most film buffs are familiar with Hitchcock’s famous filmmaking advice: if a bomb is going to explode, you can either let the audience know there’s a ticking bomb and have them sit in suspense, or you can have it explode and there will be little suspense. Unlike most films, Selma opted for the latter choice; every violent uproar was unexpected and unstaged, just as it would be in reality. In the beginning, we see the Birmingham Church bombing happen abruptly in the middle of a conversation between young black girls talking about hairstyles.

None of the major protest scenes were drawn out or unrealistically gory: they were quick with unexpected bursts of violence. This made for a much more believable and relatable story, in which the audience, like the characters, has no idea when the next brutal event will occur.

Selma took a historic event and made it into an encapsulating, gripping tale, bringing the audience into the era of the Civil Rights Movement and humanizing all of the victims of the systematic racism. 5/5

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