Yesterday my wife and I watched the 2014 movie Selma about the event leading up to the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. The timing for watching the movie was somewhat coincidental; it’s been in our Netflix queue for months and the disc just happened to show up in time for us to watch the movie over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.
This was a great movie.
The events of Selma – particularly at the Pettis Bridge – had a profound impact on the Civil Rights movement and the nation. John Lewis, in his memoir Walking With The Wind, discussed how important those events were and his character is well portrayed in the movie. Lyndon Johnson (whose multi-volume biography by Robert Caro I am reading) is also well portrayed and the movie captures much of his style; it also displays one of his best political moments in his speech about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when he declared in front of Congress and on national television, “We shall overcome.” The movie captures well the struggles and personalities of the Civil Rights movement, showing the tensions among different elements of the movement from SCLC and SNCC to Malcolm X. There were a few ‘Forest Gump’ moments (not a compliment coming from me) in which we got cameos of famous people killed during the struggle, but otherwise the movie did a wonderful job touching on many of the important figures of the Civil Rights movement even as it focused on a specific event.
At the heart of the movie was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. Without ignoring King’s flaws or downplaying his own struggles, Selma captured his electrifying speaking style, his passion for the pursuit of justice through non-violence, and his faith in God. The team of leaders young and old surrounding King clearly helped to shape his choices, but he also comes across as a powerful leader with an abiding sense of calm purpose.
More than 50 years have passed since the events on the Pettis Bridge, and while some things in America have certainly changed we continue to be a racial and economically divided nation that is quicker to pursue violent reactions to our fears and struggles and we sadly remain a nation that continues to watch deadly clashes between the police and African Americans. Of course I know that in truth it’s not that simple. Nonetheless, heading into an election year that will see the end of America’s first black presidency we would all do well to watch Selma and ponder its relevance for our own lives.