"Selma," a new film that just went wide to screens around the US, is an Interesting film, and for me as a student of the American, as well as the Irish, experiences, one well worth the investment to watch. The film narrates the epic events from March 7 to March 25, 1965, when civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marched to secure voting rights for black Americans, but particularly for those in the former Confederacy.
In a scene from "Selma," David Oyelowo as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., pauses after police withdraw from Edmund Pettus Bridge, seemingly opening the way for them to march unimpeded. Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey produced the film and Ava DuVernay directs. Martin Sheen has a cameo as a judge asked to rule on the legality of the attempted marches.
In two of the film's most dramatic scenes, marchers, of a variety of colors and religious beliefs, assemble on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, to challenge local officials and their police minions, attempting to stem the protesters' civil rights march to Montgomery, the Alabama state capital. In the first of three attempted marches, state police and a civilian 'posse' attacked the marchers, driving them back into Selma as they whipped and hammered them mercilessly. This provided the activists a nationwide audience for the brutality of local and state officials, and the many vocal white citizens who stood by as cheerleaders for their inhumanity.
So as I watched the second and ultimately unimpeded third march set off, with nuns in habits, men wearing yarmulkes, and many whites, of all ages, in the ranks, I thought, 'Were the Irish there in significant numbers?" Certainly, the sisters in the ranks suggested some were? And who were they and what might be their stories? I'd welcome any info on this.
Alabama police attack marchers attempting their first Selma-to-Montgomery March, March 7, 1965, an infamous event that came to be dubbed "Bloody Sunday." Wikipedia Commons Photo
As far as the film itself, it is always difficult, it seems to me, to translate historical events into taut drama, with the drama often coming at the expense of historical accuracy. My sense here is that where 'Selma' falls short is its desire to offer both verisimilitude while keeping us fully and emotionally engaged. I found the film a bit 'talky' at times, during the strategy conferences, for example. These interludes are great for historical exposition, I think, but invite the mind to wander as for me the emotional pull lags in those moments. (To view the film's official trailer, follow this link.)
I admit to being disappointed with "Selma," as my expectations were high. The producers have done a masterful job promoting the film and building anticipation, as last night's nearly full screening in Manhattan demonstrates. My hope was that it would become a blockbuster, but I am reminded with this of the immense challenge facing filmmakers who want a particularly meaningful history to find new life and audiences via their work. I hope I'm wrong, but my sense is that the word of mouth may not provide "Selma" with the audiences I think it deserves. -- Ger