Ava DuVernay‘s Selma, which had its first hotshot media screening last night at 6 pm, is a better-than-decent drama in…well, some respects. It has human-scale currents (compassion, moral vision, racism, cowardice, bureaucratic cynicism and brutality). DuVernay does a fair-to-decent job of re-creating the fire and the pain of the Alabama voting-rights protests of 1965, although I’m more of a fan of the “Bridge to Freedom” segment in Eyes on the Prize, the PBS doc that first aired in ’87, than I am of Selma. And yes, David Oyelowo does a reasonably good job of bringing Martin Luther King back to life, although I have to say he doesn’t quite capture King’s wonderfully melodious voice or the soaring oratorical spirit of his speeches.
Last night’s response tells us Selma is going to get lots of knee-jerk love from journalists and politically-correct lefties who swooned over Lee Daniels’ The Butler (a decent, so-so film) and 12 Years A Slave (a masterpiece) because their socially progressive instincts told them to. Selma, after all, is about the struggle by the Rev. King and his followers to demonstrate in racist Alabama for voting rights — a hard, punishing crusade that ultimately led to President Lyndon Johnson pushing for and then signing the Voting Rights Act in August 1965. If you can’t stand up for a film like this then where is your liberal soul?
So this is a good story about a noble and courageous effort, and so to pan this film, which was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt‘s Plan B productions, or to complain about parts of it, is not cool. Who wants to stand outside the circle of liberal camaraderie as far as this film is concerned? Not me, brother. It’s easier to get with the program, applaud each other for being generous of heart and enlightened enough to look past Selma‘s shortcomings and celebrate its social-historical virtues, which are genuine and tangible.