Film Selma on Dr Martin Luther King, review

This video from the USA says about itself:

12 January 2015

Film director Ava DuVernay, nominated for a Golden Globe for the critically acclaimed “Selma,” joined host Melissa Harris-Perry Sunday for an extensive interview.

On 28 February 2015, I saw the film Selma.

There have already been many reviews of Selma, including the ones of this blog post, and of this blog post.

So, I will try to avoid making the same points of these reviews all over again.

The subject of this film is the civil rights movement in the USA; especially the struggle for equal voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

One of the first images is of girls, aged 11-14, in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. They have a happy conservation about hairstyles. Would a hairstyle like Coretta Scott King‘s during the 1963 March on Washington, fit them, or are they still too young for that? Then, exploding Ku Klux Klan dynamite makes the church a bloody ruin. Four girls die, many others are wounded.

Another scene in the film shows a local official demanding that a prospective voter recite the preamble to the United States Constitution. The African American woman wanting to vote recites it correctly. Next, she gets a question about the number of county judges in Alabama. When this question is answered, it is followed by the demand to name every one of these judges. Oprah Winfrey in the role of Annie Lee Cooper cannot name them all. The racist official then triumphantly marks “DENIED” on the voter registration form. There might have been many more scenes like that in the film. I once read that one prospective African American voter had replied correctly to lots of questions on United States constitutional law. Then, the official showed him a Chinese language newspaper. ‘Now, doggone you, what does that mean?’ The prospective voter replied: ‘It means that you white folks don’t want me to vote.’

An effective part of Selma is that again and again, typewritten texts appear on the movie screen. They show the spying on Dr Martin Luther King by the FBI. The FBI bugged the telephones of Dr King and of many other ‘uppity’ African Americans, of Nelson Mandela, and of many others; and spied on them in other ways.

Another ‘intelligence’ service spying on Martin Luther King was the NSA (not mentioned in the film). Today, infamous for spying on millions and millions of people. Living proof that the ideals which Dr King stood for still need to be fought for today. Thinking also about all the other agencies, still violating civil rights and spying today, more than ever during the 1960s. Including domestic spying by the CIA: illegal, but the CIA even spies on the committee of the Senate which is supposed to prevent illegal CIA activity.

Some of the scenes of the film are around the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. To get in or out of Selma, civil rights marchers needed to cross that bridge (named for Edmund Winston Pettus, who was a Confederate brigadier general in the 1861-65 civil war, U.S. Senator from Alabama and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.)

As the marchers approach that bridge, they see heavily armed Alabama National Guard troopers at the other end. Cinema audiences then hear the song Masters of War by Bob Dylan.

This music video from the USA is called Bob Dylan – Masters of War – with lyrics.

The film indicates the struggle for voting rights was part of broader issues. Dr King and other activists linked it to opposition against the Vietnam war and against poverty.

After the Selma marches, the Voting Rights Act was at last signed by President Lyndon Johnson under pressure of the massive civil rights movement, including, as the film says, protesters outside the White House stopping First Lady Lady Bird Johnson from sleeping. That Voting Rights Act is undermined today in several states in the USA; like by ‘driving while black’ penalties for minor traffic infractions, especially if by African American motorists, making these motorists ‘felons’, threatening their rights to vote.

The end of the film shows Dr King’s speech in Montgomery, capital of Alabama. Dr King then said that rich racist white people deceive poor white people into becoming racist. They say, lying: even though you are poor, you are still beter people than blacks. Here, I think of a link to Bahrain today: Bahraini pro-democracy political prisoner Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja, inspired by Martin Luther King. The Bahraini dictatorship plays similar divide and rule games as United States southern rich racists in the 1960s; it promotes sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims in order to continue its autocracy.

Among the last words of Dr King’s speech in the film is: ‘His truth is marching on!’ Dr King meant God. But many people in his audience may also have thought of John Brown, to whom this tune and lyrics were applied as well. John Brown, fighting in the nineteenth century against supporters of slavery like General Edmund Winston Pettus. And I thought about Dr King himself. 47 years after he was murdered, his truth still needs to march on.

At the end, the film shows (white) Ms Viola Liuzzo from Detroit in the northern USA, murdered by the Ku Klux Klan just hours after her participation in the march from Selma to Montgomery.

The theme song of Selma mentions the present civil rights issues in Ferguson, Missouri at the very end of the film.

141 thoughts on “Film Selma on Dr Martin Luther King, review

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  17. John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, who challenged racial segregation on the buses in the South. He also was the Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

    In 1961 and 1962, Lewis was arrested. Twenty-four times.

    In Anniston, Alabama, Klan members deflated the tires of a bus that Lewis and the other Freedom Riders had boarded. Then they firebombed it.

    In Birmingham, Lewis was beaten.

    In Rock Hill, South Carolina, two white men punched Lewis in the face, and kicked him in the ribs.

    In Montgomery, a mob met the bus, took Lewis off the bus, knocked him over the head with a wooden crate, and left him unconscious on the bus station floor.

    On one day in 1965, a day known as “Bloody Sunday,” Alabama state troopers in Selma hit civil rights demonstrators with tear gas, charged into them, and beat them with clubs. They broke John Lewis’s skull.


    Alan Grayson


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