No Hollywood filmmaker has dared portray the immense legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. until now. It’s easy to see why: how do you do justice to a latter-day saint without devolving into mawkishness? Miraculously, director Ava DuVernay – smartly zeroing in on a brief window of history – has made a remarkably measured and undeniably courageous piece of work, which avoids obvious pitfalls.
DuVernay’s focus is the crucial 1965 peace march in Selma, Alabama, which triggered the Voting Rights Act and transformed the South. We may know the history, but given America’s recent racial struggles, the ugly scenes of bigotry and violence feel urgent, shot with uncompromising force.
It’s hard to understand why Selma was so cruelly overlooked by Oscar voters – in particular, Oyelowo. As King, his performance is technically precise, a nearly flawless impersonation. But the eye-stinging heart and soul is all his. Against all conceivable odds, this is a film as confident and assured in its moral fortitude, and as soaringly powerful in its oratory, as the great man himself.
First appeared in The Skinny, February 2015 issue.