DAVID OLEYOWO –
SELMA – 2014
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
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,
. The movement came from
the local black people who had been organized by some young black people from Selma
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.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU