Considering his stature as one of the twentieth centuries most iconic figures, it is surprising that there have been no films directly made about Martin Luther King before.
In his legacy - created in life and death - there is a treasure of rich material to be shown from King’s extraordinary life. What director Ava DuVernay focuses on in her biopic of King, is not his rise at the beginning, or his untimely passing at the end – but instead the middle of his life, once he was already world-recognised and in his political prime.
That said, the film Selma, begins with King’ in front of a mirror adjusting his outfit, and practising a speech, soon to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm 1964. Probably at his most known moment. The remaining two hours of the film, is a chronicle of his campaign to secure equal voting rights for Southern Blacks via an epic fifty-mile march from the town of Selma to Montgomery (the state capital of Alabama) to protest.
Organised by John Bevel (Common), the march was unfortunately cut short by Alabama state troopers and members of the public, who, armed with clubs; batons and tear gas, attacked them and ended the mass-televised demonstration. DuVernay’s agenda for the film, depicts the events before and after the event.
Granted, it is a very powerful subject to tackle, given that fifty-years later, Civil Rights events are still happening and being documented almost weekly on the news - such as the Ferguson events. Encompassing the importance, and emotional nature of the film, Selma has been created with cinematic value and extraordinarily well performed roles.
Portraying the lead of Martin Luther King is British actor, David Oyelowo, who, having appeared in many films previous but in small parts, is now able to shine in his first lead role. Although King’s heirs did not grant permission to use the original speeches – Oyelowo’s performance still feels authentic, as he embodies the sonorous Southern accent, preacher qualities and gravitas of his legacy.
Sure, he is not a replica of what King physically looked, or sounded like. But Oyelowo powerfully captures what we have learnt in school history lessons. It is incredibly well performed, yet, shockingly, snubbed at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Performance!
Co-starring the ensemble of Carmen Ejogo (Mrs King), Oprah Winfrey (also a producer on the film), Tom Wilkinson (President Johnson) and Tim Roth (George Wallace), the film is carried by the sublime character studies of the bold, and bracing historical figures.
Deservingly nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Selma also picked up a nomination for Best Original Song, where Common (rapper and actor), along with musician John Legend, perform ‘Glory’ over the closing credits where real footage of the Selma – Montgomery march in 1965 plays, capturing the true legacy of King; lyrically, visually and methodically.