Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay, is a master class for filmmakers telling historical stories still relevant in the modern era. Set in the 1960s, the film examines the events leading up to the historic Bloody Sunday march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Though the march was intended to be a peaceful protest for the right to vote, lives were lost, many were injured, and the world was watching.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is now an iconic figure with a national holiday. In 1965, he was a husband, a father, a minister and a leader called to shift the ideology of a nation. Selma humanizes him, showing moments in his home, as he and his wife, Coretta Scott King, receive death threats, and as Dr. King calls musical legend Mahalia Jackson to hear her sacred voice when in need of spiritual encouragement. These moments, preserved in ominous FBI surveillance notes, expertly flashed on screen throughout the film.
Selma captures the inhumanity of the 1960s for the modern audience. As a director, DuVernay takes the time to show the course of events we wish were untrue. The senseless violence. The unfortunate deaths. Who isn’t moved by the innocent final moments of four little girls killed in their church in 1963? It is painful and powerful to watch Oprah Winfrey, someone the world admires, play Annie Lee Cooper, a woman given a poll test to prevent her from registering to vote. How many Americans can recite the Preamble to the Constitution?
DuVernay directed a period piece with extraordinary relevance to the modern conversation. At its core, this film showcases the importance of the right to vote. Were it insignificant, so many laws and practices would not have been put in place to prevent the exercise of that right for women and people of color. Selma is a gift that people need to see to understand all that was sacrificed for the freedoms we now take for granted. As a woman and a person of color, DuVernay has signed up to continue the shift of American ideology through her films. Beautifully directed, with an unforgettable soundtrack and impactful performances, Selma is a must see.