Friday, September 25, 2015


Selma is all about Ferguson


The film is historical since it deals with a very special episode of recent modern US history: the passing of the act on the right to vote for black people, which in fact was an act banning any kind of procedure that would prevent black people from registering as citizen to vote and run in elections. That act was finally passed in 1965 under President Johnson.

The film explores how that act came into being. Under the pressure of a strong peaceful movement organized and led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. The movement came from the local black people who had been organized by some young black people from Selma itself. Martin Luther King was only asked to come into the picture because the local people needed someone to go and speak to the President himself. And Martin Luther King had just receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Johnson refused at first to deal with the voting problem of the blacks. He had more urgent business to run: his famous law on welfare and poverty and his war in Vietnam. King did not take no for an answer and he went to Selma to organize things with the locals. The reaction from the whites was superbly racist and violent. The governor, the famous Wallace, was entirely against changing traditions and he even asked the President to send troops or other forces to keep peace in the streets.

Johnson actually refused and Martin Luther King managed to get the attention of the national media. Then it was only a question of patience and endurance. They went to court to claim their right to peacefully demonstrate on a constitutional question like the right to vote written in black and white in the 13th and 14th amendment plus quite a few laws. The surprise came from the white judge who had to be a federal judge since it was a federal constitutional matter. The judge decided that the Blacks had the right to demonstrate to request the implementation of their federal constitutional right.

Then the battle was won. A massive demonstration was organized and the state of Alabama did not provoke any violence. Then within weeks the act about the matter was passed by Congress and signed by Johnson into law. This final demonstration enables the producers of the film to get history back on the screen with some of the TV coverage of the time in black and white.

This film is important historically, is well made and well acted. But this film is all the more important because it really starts with a bomb that kills four girls in their home. Thank you Ku Klux Klan! And the killing of a young demonstrator by a cop with his firearm. Thank you racist police and sheriff! This film was shot in 2014 and at the same moment in Ferguson, and then many other places a whole series of young male blacks were killed by police forces with their firearms or their physical brutality or lack of assistance to dying prisoners.

In other words in a way the film tells us history repeats itself if we do not keep up with the various issues encountered in life and make sure the solutions found now will hold later. This violence against young male blacks is typical of that necessity as much as typical of the vicious racism that is developing or that is cultivated in various local police forces in the USA, no matter what race these policemen or policewomen may be. They seem to believe that young male blacks are the inner enemy of the welfare of the nation, at least of their little patch of the nation.

As such, this mixture of history and present politics is a good point for a film on the subject.

A last thing has to be said. Martin Luther King Jr. was shown as a person who doubted a lot before coming to his decisions and actions. At times his decisions and actions were taken in some ritual way that lets us think he wanted us to believe he got in touch with God and got his advice. That attitude is surprising and yet is part of his prudence, a cautiousness that wants to be reassuring by being staged properly, that is to say with some religious dimension.


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