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Friday, January 30, 2015

Everyone Must See The Movie Selma Because

Some movies are must see movies because of how they tell a story.  Other movies, however, are must see movies because of the story they tell. The movie Selma (click here) fits the latter category. 

Please don't misunderstand, Selma is fictionalized for dramatic purposes, but it is based on the historical battle for voting rights as this battle took place in the city of Selma. It is a well-made movie. The scenes blend together appropriately and the actors and actresses performed well. But the most important part about this movie is the story, or really the stories, it tells.

The primary story here is about the march through the city of Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. The city was picked because of the anticipated resistance and resorting to violence expected from the local police department. Such a government reaction to a legitimate cause would help move the American public off their couches to support the mission. And that support was needed in order to move the federal government to write and pass legislation that would guarantee Blacks the right to vote.

This primary story revolved around the work, words, and person of Martin Luther King Jr. But we should not misunderstand the focus on him. His spotlight wasn't meant to imply that he did the bulk of the work. A great deal of groundwork had been laid by organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced 'snik'). And there were confrontations to be had between King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC), and SNCC. History tells that that was not the first time. King's refusal to take part in the Freedom Rides of 1961 caused some disillusionment for participating activists. 

Some of King's faults, weaknesses, struggles, and strengths were on display in this movie. So too were the internal struggles within SNCC regarding the continued reliance on nonviolence. Now whether this battle took place during the Selma protests, I don't know. But its reliance on nonviolence was debated within the group. So just as with King, this movie showed some of SNCC's faults, weaknesses, struggles, and strengths. That more focus had not been put on SNCC by this movie is a bone of contention for some leftist reviewers of the movie.

And as with the display of different parts of King's personhood and behaviors, so the same applied to President Johnson or LBJ. For LBJ was displayed as being conflicted during this time in the battle for voting rights. Those who have high esteem of LBJ heavily criticized the movie because of that portrayal. However, there is at least one source that can document the internal battle LBJ went through during this time (click here). For while he did have a measure of concern for the plight of Blacks, he also had his own political agenda and priorities and so there were battles between the President and King over the timing for progress.

In addition to the go-around between the President and King, the movie told about the FBI efforts to not only monitor, but to sabotage some of King's work. One way in which this attempted sabotage took place was to target the stressed relationship King had with his wife, Coretta Scott King. This leads into the movie's story about the trials she had to face. From threatening phone calls to phone calls trying to discredit her husband to her husband's constant traveling to his husband's affairs and to the everyday rigors of raising kids, the movie clearly shows some of what Coretta had to endure while still providing invaluable support for her husband. 

We also got to see a little of how life was for Blacks during that time. From their targeted exclusion from voter registers to the verbal and physical violence forced on them what was shown was horrible to see. And yet, as horrendous as the treatment of Blacks was as depicted in the movie, it was even much more important to include it in the telling of the story.

Finally, the movie told stories about those who opposed to voting rights and other civil rights. Those opposed included politicians, law enforcement officers, and regular citizens. Unlike the other characters in the movie, these people were shown as only being dark. What they did to Blacks was inhumane and simply without excuse. And we should learn with regard to the laws back then and the past behaviors of government officials and law enforcement officers is that we can never afford to equate what is legal with what is moral.

This movie Selma is a must see movie. In fact, it is a must see multiple times movie. But it isn't a movie to watch for entertainment's sake. Rather, it is a movie to watch for morality's sake. Just as Germany's Holocaust provided a 'never again' event, so too has America's treatment of people of color. This movie covers only one small part of our nation's deplorable history of how it has abused Blacks; it does not include those stories of how other races were abused. We should note that with today's incarceration rates and the numerous shootings of unarmed Blacks, our sad history here is not yet finished. Therefore, whatever the weaknesses of this movie, it is one of those movies which we must all watch over and over again--that is if we want to see a change.



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