Following into the footsteps of 2013, the year of 2014 has turned out to be an amazing one for cinema. There’s no denying that it was one of the best years science-fiction genre has ever had & was a welcome change for big-budget blockbusters too as summer season saw the release of numerous high-quality products. But that’s not all because 2014 also witnessed the rise of independent cinema, championed by Richard Linklater’s Boyhood itself which is the top contender for Best Picture Oscar this year, and is also notable for transitioning the lives of many notable personalities on the film canvas, luminaries like Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Martin Luther King, Jr. & others.
Keeping in view the events of the past few months surrounding the Ferguson protests that has once again resulted in the escalation of racial tensions in the United States, the timing & arrival of Selma couldn’t have been more apt. Not because the film brings any solution to the current unrest situation but simply depicts that not enough has changed over the years since that famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and that Martin Luther King’s dream & vision of an ideal society which embraces every person as an equal, instead of discriminating them on the basis of race, colour or creed, is still far from becoming a reality. And it’s not something that’s confined to only one country.
Set in the titular city of Alabama state in 1965, the story of Selma concerns the events surrounding the Voting Rights Movement carried out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & his organisation which led to the famous protest march from Selma to Montgomery as an exhibition of black American citizens’ desire to be allowed their constitutional right to vote, which was granted with the passing of Voting Rights Act later that year. In the truest sense, Selma is not really a biopic of the iconic figure for it only covers a small but crucial segment of his life, and although it glances over Dr. King’s personal matters in bits n pieces, the story’s major emphasis is on the civil rights movement itself.
Directed by Ava DuVernay who also did uncredited work on Paul Webb’s screenplay, Selma is crafted with meticulous care & passion, and instead of portraying the life of its historical figure like a biopic is usually supposed to, it focuses on one event that became a landmark achievement of the 1960s America Civil Rights Movement, and through that it manages to successfully capture Dr. King’s vision, his tactics, his political skills & even his flaws. Set pieces wonderfully recreate the era its plot is set in, Cinematography makes outstanding use of handheld shots, lighting & colour tones, Editing is brilliantly carried out for the most part while its background music only gets better as the story progresses.
Coming to the performances, Selma features a highly committed cast in David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey & others, and all of them have done a fabulous job in their given roles. Spearheading the acting department is Oyelowo who is absolutely brilliant, charming & believable in the role of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it’s a shame that his performance was completely sidelined by the Academy. Tom Wilkinson plays US President Lyndon Johnson splendidly, Tim Roth takes the role of the notorious Alabama Governor George Wallace, Oprah Winfrey is in as Annie Lee Cooper, and the contribution by rest of its supporting cast leaves nothing to complain about.
On an overall scale, Selma is an impressive piece of history filmmaking that’s skilfully directed, deftly written, strongly performed & benefits very much from its brilliant use of camera, authentic set pieces plus evocative background score. It is an intensely gripping drama when all its elements are working in harmony with each other yet there are a few instances where its narrative feels dramatically stale & could’ve used a few more trims. Although by no means a truly great picture in my opinion, Selma still makes up for an essential viewing as the positives clearly outshine the negatives here, and thanks to its commanding lead performance from Oyelowo & energetic direction from DuVernay, this biographical drama succeeds in honouring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.