Ryan Flynn –
Perfect timing for a perfect movie. That is how I felt while watching the new movie Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay and with David Oyelowo playing Martin Luther King, Jr. The movie comes out right after the height of many months of protests surrounding the issues in Ferguson, Missouri, and shootings of unarmed black men in other cities in the United States.
The film, for those who are not polished up on their American history, is about the work done in Selma, Alabama in 1964-65 leading up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The movie goes the way the movie Lincoln did, in that it focuses greatly on the behind the scenes conversations that made the movements and the events the way they turned out, in turn reverberating what historians have long said about the events and putting them on the big screen.
Of course films are not always 100% historically accurate, and Selma is no exception. The biggest critique that historians have had on the film has been the depiction of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. In the film, Johnson is portrayed as a rather reluctant player in the Civil Rights movement and in some respects, even an obstructionist to the movement. Historians have been quick to point out that this was not the case and that most depictions of Johnson have been that he was a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights movement. In response to this, director DuVernay said that the movie is “not a documentary. I’m not a historian. I’m a storyteller.” U.S. Representative John Lewis (who is portrayed as a young man and member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) also chimed in by saying “We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?”
Regardless, the film has been well received with a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and winning awards for its film score at the Golden Globes, Critic’s Choice Movie Awards, and awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Music from the African-American Film Critics Association.
This film is extremely important in its timing on other fronts. It came out just two months before the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. It also comes at a time when many politicians are working to dismantle the Civil Rights Act of 1965 making it easier to disenfranchise people yet again. How this is being done is through Voter ID Laws, stating that you must have a state or federally-issued ID to vote, and it is said to be an attempt to “cut down on voter fraud”. There have only been 28 counts of voter fraud since 2000. Instead these laws are disproportionately affecting minorities or low-income voters, who have a tougher time obtaining these IDs. This movie is important, because it brings back to the surface the reason these laws are in place. If you are a citizen of this country, you have every right to vote and do your civic duty. Nobody should be able to take that away from you!
All I can say is finally there is a film solely about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his great legacy. “We shall overcome.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ryan Flynn, from Jacksonville, Illinois, is a senior history major at Illinois College. Ryan is Opinions Editor for The Rambler, TRiO Social Committee President, and Class Chair for the Class of 2015.