About Movie Selma: Secure Voting Rights For African Americans

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Since unarmed people of color are dying at the hands of law enforcement, I chose Selma to celebrate black history month because it is more relevant today than ever. Selma shows that much progress has been made; however, we still have a long way to go. Black men and women all over this country are still marching in the name of equality. Moreover, it is a good and powerful movie. I was deeply moved after seeing it in theaters a few years ago. To me, Selma is personal which is another reason why I am writing about it. Even though I was not alive back then but when looking at Ferguson and Staten Island, I was reminded of Selma. The protests that happened in those places in the wake of the grand jury decisions were similar to the ones that were portrayed in the movie. When it comes to the violence faced by the protesters, Selma showed it all.

Selma is centered around the efforts of Dr. King played by David Oyelowo and the people of Selma, Alabama to secure voting rights for African Americans. Even though they have the legal right to vote, they are prevented from exercising it by dishonest tactics like the poll tax and outright violence. President Johnson has signed the Civil Rights Act into law and wants to focus on the issue of poverty, despite the insistence of Dr. King on working towards voting rights. Against the president’s wishes and the official position of the state of Alabama and Governor Wallace, King organizes a march from Selma to Montgomery in peaceful protest. Being threatened and watched by the FBI, King’s marriage to his wife Coretta is threatened and King suffers second thoughts about his strategy for achieving equality. Though the movement receives tremendous support both from those inside and outside of Selma, the violence from those in power is seemingly inescapable.

What I learned about activism from Selma is that movement are definitely not made by leaders which we also talked about in class. Dr. King was not working alone, he had an army of people behind him. The scenes of internal fights among movement leaders and hundreds of people marching through the street make it apparent that Dr. King himself was but a part of a bigger picture. A vital organ to the functioning body of the movement but not the only one. While leaders do not make movements, successful movements require leaders. As it was shown throughout Selma, movements must have someone who is entrusted with the authority to make final decisions on strategy, to know when to advance and when to retreat, to soothe the activists in times of sorrow and to speak clearly to the outside world at critical moments. Therefore, leaders are essential to a movement.

In addition to that, effective leaders have to be selfless and seeing the portrayal of Dr. King as a selfless man, sacrificing his own wants and needs, pushing himself beyond his own fears and uncertainties in order to be a better human being and more effective leader was a learning moment for me. I went home feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility, to take more of an active role within my community and to help improve the quality of life for all which I supposed was the goal of the movie in some sense. There has to be something that we as human beings believe in and are willing to stand firmly for like Dr. King did.

I particularly found the portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma very important. It conveyed a side of him that felt more relatable and more human than the legend of the man that is so often taught to children in schools across the country or even the world. The movie did not depict the superhero or larger than life persona of Dr. King, but rather a man who believed in the equality of all people; a viewpoint that was unpopular among many of the nation’s citizens at the time and even today.

While I loved Selma, my critique is that it avoids making the leaders of various groups, and the visitors who answer Dr. King’s radio summons to stand with the people of Selma into individuals. They are most importantly seen as part of a whole group; he has the spotlight to himself. Some of the film’s most powerful scenes include people who are only in that one scene and whose names many people may not know or remember but whose faces and words they do.

Also, the violence in the movie is painfully and brutally shown in ways that nobody can look away from. It simply lets the injustice and pain of the situation tell the story. While the film did accomplish what it wanted to, I was still somewhat disappointed.

Nonetheless, Selma is a perfect example of what people can achieve when they come together as one. When people move forward in solidarity and positive action, mountains can be moved and the world can be changed for the better. Another thing Many times, people feel helpless that they cannot bring significant changes in the world and I remember us going over reasons why as a class. A major takeaway from Selma is that Dr. King is a strong reminder that one person can indeed be the spark that helps change the world. Everyone has the potential to be that spark if and only if they tap into it.

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