Oprah has decided that producing Selma and portraying Annie Lee Cooper, a 54-year-old woman who tried to register to vote, in the film was just not enough. She is also using her platform to promote the movie and honor those who were apart of the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago. For one month beginning on January 1, 2015, OWN will feature exclusive programs, specials and movies in commemoration of the 50th anniversary.
Oprah has made it very clear that this moment in history, in light of the current state of race relations in the country, is an important one that we should use as a learning experience. Selma screened across the country last night and is already receiving positive reviews.
The battle it documents is both a cornerstone of the past and a reflection of ongoing struggles. DuVernay infuses “Selma” with that dichotomy, never forgetting how Selma, the place, was a pledge to march ahead. –
The movie’s key scene dramatizes what many Americans (myself among them) have never fully grasped: that the measure of King’s greatness came not when he pushed forward but when he retreated. The march from Selma to Montgomery is meant to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a phalanx of police wait with eerie calm, having presumably learned the lesson not to beat people (now blacks and Northern whites) to a pulp in full view of cameras. We watch Oyelowo’s King stop and gaze and think, like a chess player visualizing all the different moves and countermoves. It is an anticlimax that is in ways that matter a stupendous climax. Nowadays, the people on the other side of the bridge are just as powerful, and more resourceful in reaching their base. This extraordinary film tells the rest of us: Stop, gaze, think.
The sprawl of an event that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Bill in August 1965 is uncontainable, especially in one film. But nothing is going to stop DuVernay. In “Glory,” a song by Common and John Legend that ends the film, we hear the lyric “That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up. . . ./They say, ‘Stay down,’ and we stand up.” DuVernay’s momentous film is a testament to those words. The struggle continues.
For a listing of OWN’s #Selma50 coverage click here.
Have you seen the film? What were your thoughts?