Martin Luther King Jr. holding the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The opening scene in Selma shows King receiving the award.
Selma is one of the few movies about Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and his unwavering determination for African-American voting in the United States. He received the Nobel Peace prize in 1964 for preaching non-violent protest. It is during Black History month that the movie must be recognized, analyzed, and understood as an important historical part of American and global history.
The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches are depicted in the movie as the most important landmarks in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr.’s cagey leadership, unmatched charisma and unwavering commitment to nonviolence were critical ingredients in creating effective change. Without the leadership of King, and the unmatched attention he received when he came to town, one must wonder how Selma ended the way it did with thousands of people both white and black gathering underneath King’s podium, outside an Alabama courthouse.
In the movie, King’s enemies are politicians. Selma depicts U.S. President Lyndon Johnson as an insensitive man who had other political priorities the year of the demonstration. Johnson seemingly had very little interest in helping King until lives were lost. Furthermore, Alabama Governor George Wallace was portrayed as a non-believer in desegregation and vowed to make King’s life very difficult by sending State Troopers to take violent action against the protest. The movie also shows J. Edgar Hoover, the FBIs director, mobilizing his agents to take King down; although there are no facts to support this.
With all the obstacles pitted against King in Selma it is hard to believe the patience he is shown as having in the movie. Despite multiple deaths among his followers, the only moment depicting his uncertainty came during his time in the Alabama State prison after refusing to leave the front of a courthouse; the same courthouse he would later conduct a speech.
The movie showed the dedication of King’s followers despite two deaths and multiple beatings from State Troopers. Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot trying to save his grandparents from the clutches of State Troopers, and James Reeb, a white pastor who travelled from Boston to participate in the Selma protests was beaten and killed in an alley. This depiction of violence and police brutality in the movie remains relevant today; over fifty years later. The police killing of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown sparked protests in Ferguson, Missouri throughout 2014.
Selma showed Martin Luther King Jr.’s deep faith and the faith of his followers as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. King quoted scripture, rallied supporters from the church sanctuary and even stopped to bend his knee in posture of prayer at the end of a 50-mile walk from Selma-to-Montgomery. Thousands of demonstrators did the same.
Selma reminded us all of how a determined movement led by a flawed-but-passionate preacher helped right one of America’s greatest wrongs. It was expertly acted, emotionally stirring and made viewers understand why King had a thirst for justice empowered by his Christian faith. During Black History Month, it is important to remember the brave men and women that joined Dr. King in Selma and the sacrifices made to fight for the rights and freedoms of African-Americans.