Selma (2014)

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Selma (2014) poster

Selma is an occasionally clunky morality play, featuring numerous recognizable actors in a self-congratulatory parade. It is also, by far, the most visceral, moving, and important film of the eight movies nominated for Best Picture of 2014. It’s a travesty that the Academy didn’t recognize any of the performances in this film, particularly David Oyelowo’s or Carmen Ejogo’s.

Like all movies β€œabout race” and the American civil rights movement, Selma serves as a Rorschach test. For some, it’s a simplistic fable about how bad those evil southern racists used to be, and how we’re all so much better than that now. For others, it’s a reminder of how little fundamental attitudes have actually changed in the half century since the Selma-to-Montgomery marches.

In a more reasonable world, Selmaβ€˜s relatively mild caricature of LBJ wouldn’t attract the same level of controversy as Oliver Stone’s insinuation that LBJ was involved in a conspiracy to murder the President of the United States. (Or more pushback than Oscar-bait Frost/Nixonβ€˜s insinuation that a cartoonishly venal Nixon was aware of the Watergate burglary in advance.)

In a fairer world, Selma would at least spark conversations the way The China Syndrome did after Three Mile Island, with the often striking parallels to the events in Ferguson, MO and beyond in 2014.

In a better world, Selmaβ€˜s painful and occasionally brutal reminders of continued systematic racism in America would be unnecessary.

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