Selma

            ď Selma Ē is an emotional experience.  Whether or not you lived through the turbulent 1960ís, you know that the social upheaval changed the very fabric of American society.  Of course, there are many, in light of recent events, who feel we still havenít come far enough.  But a trip back to the Selma , Alabama of 1965 would convince you that we sure donít want to go there.

            Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo, a Brit born of Nigerian parents) came to Selma because he believed this was a perfect place to target a peaceful demonstration:  principally, because peopleís basic civil rights were being denied them.  The good-olí-boy system of all-white county clerks in local courthouses made certain that blacks were intimidated, harassed, and delayed, and otherwise prevented from simply registering to vote.  Dr. King was preaching social non-violence, but he disagreed with some of the more radical activists of the time, like Malcolm X, who were more confrontational, even inviting conflict.  Dr. King felt that the moral high ground was to claim the constitutional right to peacefully assemble, to publicly protest, and to exert political pressure for needed change.  Of course, he was not the first to demand reform, but somehow, with his regal bearing and dignified manner and principled demeanor and educated but fiery rhetoric, he was able to galvanize people, and to rally support to his cause, not just fellow blacks, but whites, as well, who felt the calling to join the fight for the principle of civil equality.

            Of course Alabama had a long and proud tradition of waving the Confederate flag, which to the blacks was the very symbol of white racism.  The lawmen who opposed the marches were, of course, all white.  And so were the judges who withheld their approval for parade permits, not to mention the man in the White House, Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, also an Englishman), whoís shown here as being only a reluctant and late participant in the civil rights bandwagon.  Of course the most visible and vocal white supremist was Alabama ís Governor, George Wallace (played by Tim Roth, also British), but what he didnít realize was that his era was past.  But he was so stubbornly racist that not even his four subsequent unsuccessful runs for the Presidency would convince him that he was the one out of touch with the people.

            ď Selma Ē is unafraid to show Dr. King with a little bit of personal vulnerability.  His wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, another Brit) confronted him about his infidelity, but quietly, so as not to wake the children.  Martin could deliver soaring sermons, but sometimes, in the quiet of his own living room, he would entertain self-doubt.  And he was getting weary, not only from all the high-stakes stare-downs, but also the implication of dissension within the ranks of the activists themselves.    But he could inspire people, and he could lead, and he knew how to make the group see that they had to keep occupying the moral high ground or else they had no chance of succeeding.  Of course the truest test for any self-proclaimed pacifist is if you defend yourself when youíre physically attacked.  It takes a special kind of courage to take a beating for the principle of pacifism.

            Despite the curious bias about casting non-Americans in the critical roles, Director Ava DuVernay creates a credible time capsule of the Deep South back when it was painfully segregated.  The real kudos, of course, belong to the late, great Dr. King himself, who was the singular voice of a repressed people, and so was a true prophet of our generation.

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas