Posted Oct 28 2015

Selma - This Movie Preaches Where It Should Rock

Dir: Ava DuVernay

Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Wendell Pierce, Common, Oprah

There was much hoo-ing and ha-ing when Selma was snubbed by the BAFTAs (totally) and the Oscars (a Best Picture nod that can at best, and unfortunately, be called tokenistic.) So what went wrong? Was it a deliberate attempt to cheat history of the first nominated black female director? Was it the sudden whiff of scandal over its portrayal of LBJ and whitewashing of MLK? Was it Hollywood just having had enough and saying “We did the whole black thing last year!”? Was it the fact that every time the move cuts to Oprah, you stop and go “Hey look – there’s Oprah!”?

Truth be told, it’s none of the above. Selma just simply isn’t that good a movie. It’s a perfectly OK movie, but never rises above that. Despite some very good performances. It’s a worthy tale, told in a perfectly adequate, but perfunctory manner. And nothing more than that.

DuVernay has a strong card in Oyelowo’s key central performance as Dr. King but the film struggles to show him as anything even vaguely resembling a man. Whenever Martin enters into any conversation in this movie, even when asked for a simple reply to a simple question, he starts to speechifying. It’s like he never said a casual word in his life. Why say something brief when you can unfurl rhetoric by the yard? When the story demands such verbiage – in recreating public events, in showing his face-offs with Wilkinson’s understated Johnson (strange phrase!), Oyelowo delivers superbly. But the film allows the performer nothing even close to resembling an “off” switch.

Fellow Brits (ironically) Roth and Wilkinson are both on fine form, and the march(es) are powerfully recreated. But for all the sincerity the film conveys, it’s all too simplistic and, unexpectedly given its subject matter, uninspiring. Plus, it’s really distracting every time Oprah shows up. Like she’s about to give everyone who stands up and is counted a new car.


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