Wednesday, 11 February 2015


We hadn't been to the movies in nearly three months since I got ill - we weren't going to miss this one!

Selma is the story of just one protest in a long line of Civil Rights protests that were the story of America in the 1960's.

We both wanted to see it; for Robyn it's her history. For me (strangely) it is too. What was happening in America when I was a very small boy may have just been a story on the television but because my granny lived there it was more alive to me than that. It was an everyday subject of her letters - she was a feisty democrat. I particularly remember the assassination of Robert Kennedy because I saw my granny's reaction to it while she was staying with us.

I remember all those marches and protests, all those assassinations, as a long line of black and white images from another world.

I'm not sure how you could do any of that justice - but the film did well.

The little southern town of Selma was just the most extreme example of how while Black people were nominally free to vote they couldn't actually do so because they were given impossible tasks before they could register.

And they even had to pay a Poll Tax that they couldn't afford first.

Alabama was ruled by a right wing populist and racist Governor; George Wallace. In the White House was a dithering Southern Democrat President. Meanwhile in the southern states there was a system of Apartheid that shamed America in the eyes of the world.

Martin Luther King Junior spearheaded the long running local protests by bringing in large numbers of outside protestors to confront Wallace in Montgomery.

Meanwhile he used the bad publicity to pressurise an unwilling Lyndon B. Johnson into bringing in federal legislation to prevent these tricks.

It would be very hard to satisfy everybody with just one film.... the Civil Rights movement was complex and divided. There were many who didn't believe in non-violence, there were Trades Unionists, socialists and communists. There was the Black Power Movement and there were even white people.

Not everybody was religious and some people were Moslem.

It's complicated.

And so the film concentrated on that march from Selma to Montgomery and while there are many protests you could start from it's as good a place as any to tell the story.

It's really difficult in any historic film to balance the need for actors having some resemblance to the characters they are playing and just having good actors. So Tim Roth was stunning as George Wallace even if he really just looked like Tim Roth but Tom Wilkinson was a very convincing Lyndon B. Johnson in every respect.

King? David Oyelowo was good but maybe had problems capturing the sheer charisma of the man.

Who could? 

Carmen Ejogo was a very fine Coretta while Oprah Winfrey put in a very moving performance (yeah, I didn't recognise her till the credits came up).

If I had a criticism it's that the film wanted a happy ending - a victory. The Civil Rights movement didn't finish on the steps of the Governor's residence in Montgomery.

The poverty and inequality of being born a Black American is just as much a part of life in America today. It certainly was during the 1970's and 1980's.

Just take a look at the number of unarmed Black people shot by police or racist vigilantes over the last year.

And poverty was a very live issue in the southern states in the 1960's; the white racists weren't just faceless thugs they were also an oppressed poor with few opportunities or rights themselves.

So the struggles didn't start or finish in Selma.

But it was a great film. A long film with complex issues and not much story that was over in a flash. That's always a good sign.

A majority Black cast....where all the heroes are Black.

Now that's unusual.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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