"Selma" the Movie
Initial Ten Responses to Selma
Daphne Muse
January 14, 2015

Hope this does not give away too much of the plot:

  1. Should have been named King's Selma. SNCC and SCLC, who created real agency with the local people, were there two years before King entered. The young people of Selma first proposed that march.

  2. Brought to the forefront the work of black preachers who took huge risks and organized to claim significant victories.

  3. Where was the movement music? The energy of the music (popular culture, spirituals and movement ) was electrifying and an essential organizing tool. I certainly did love the John Legend & Common Song at the end.

  4. Riveting acting for the most part and Oyelowo nailed Dr. King. Johnson was too polished; he was crass and raw. Wendell Pierce did a fine Hosea Williams. I got no J. Edgar Hoover from Dylan Baker. Lorraine Toussaint was fabulous as Amelia Boynton and Oparh as Annie Lee Cooper. That moment when the registrar of voters asks Cooper to name the 67 judges pointed up the utter absurdity of racism. Loved Common as James Bevel. Curious about the casting of so many Brits in the film.

  5. That moment where Coretta confronts King about his infidelities was priceless and she was not a chicken necking drama queen, but a very dignified woman and that dignity (especially in that moment) was crucial to her character.

  6. The rich texture of Southern dialect(s) was missing, although Sheriff Clark was on point with his. Longed for Johnson's Texas drawl that seemingly lengthened the stretch of a word by miles. I guess you have to "pasteurize" the accents so people can understand the dialogue. That is unfortunate.

  7. Loved the scene in the kitchen of Richie Jean Jackson's (Neicey Nash) home. The camaraderie, especially among those black men, was captured so beautifully.

  8. In the two lines spoken, Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson) was not reflected as the powerful strategic thinker she was. In response to the power Diane Nash wielded from her position as a SNCC organizer, Attorney General Robert Kennedy once asked, "Who the hell is Diane Nash?"

  9. The screen captions noting tracking by the FBI is critical for people to understand that invasion of privacy has been a long standing practice in American life and culture.

  10. While this is DuVernay's vision of Selma, I think it is critical for writers and directors to ground their work in the facts that drive the narrative and capture the historical moments with greater accuracy. I know this is not a documentary, but that responsibility remains nonetheless.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and especially SNCC, I recommend visiting the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement Website. Some of the stories related to Selma also are captured in the archival and biographical work done on King by Claybourne Carson at: mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/.

To hear more voices from women in the movement who were in Selma, I recommend Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.

Reflecting on my thinking a few days later

Selma is a powerful reflection of black people boldly and defiantly speaking truth to power.

Selma is a powerful reflection of black people boldly and defiantly speaking truth to power. Whatever the range of critiques regarding the film, the courage and dignity with which the people of Selma, Alabama and their allies met their mission to secure voting rights for black people and is riveting in its portrayal. Despite being whipped with blood-letting, nail infused Billy clubs, having their jobs threatened and friends, family and allies murdered for seeking and advancing justice, they continued to persevere. Despite my own critique in "Ten Responses to Selma" (above), I am grateful to DuVernay, Pitt and Winfrey and the others who made this film possible.

The film truly reflects the dignity, strategic thinking, bravery and compassion of black people. It also reflected the vision of Dr. King and young men including SNCC activist John L. Lewis and SCLC strategist James Bevel. From his mentor theologian Howard Thurman to activists whose names will never be known, King's vision also was forged by other movements and voices contemporary to the times. What was not at the table was the fierce leadership of the movement's female "architects," including Ella Baker, Septima Clark and Fannie Lou Hamer. The presence of SNCC strategist Diane Nash nuanced beyond recognition. And while the voices of everyday people did not form the primary dialogue, the fierce determination of people including Amelia Boyton, Jimmy Lee Jackson and Annie Lee Cooper was apparent.

How many have walked even one mile, let alone fifty-four miles, dressed in the same reflections of dignity, self-respect and perseverance? Their feet were not comforted by Nike Air Jordan shoes or Adidas. Many women were attired in church lady outfits and men suits. Allies including Michigan housewife Viola Liuzzo and Unitarian Minister James Reeb came in a heartbeat and were murdered at the hands of white supremacist.

Despite King's decision to turn back on the second attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and march to Montgomery, the insistence and agency of local people and other activists from around the country, resulted in accomplishing the fifty-four mile march from Selma to Montgomery. That stride toward freedom resulted in twenty-five thousand people assembling on the steps of the capital at Montgomery and in the same year, the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The inherent pride and belief by black people in black people (supported by diverse groups of celebrities, religious leaders, union members and educators) went the distance in that pen being put to paper to make the Voting Rights Act a reality.

In the aftermath of Ferguson and the daily killings of black people across the country, this generation of activists is making Black Lives Matter. They have the legacies of Selma, and the wells of so many other battles and victories claimed for social justice, from which to draw.

The experience of Selma and this film translate differently across the generations. But, I feel a sense of reassurance now that my forty-one-year-old daughter, sixteen-year-old grandson and thousands of young people have seen the movie. My grandson loved the film and the closing song "Glory" by Common and John Legend. Interestingly enough, he was most taken by the FBI tracking notes that came on the screen during the film. He curiously noted "No one could say this wasn't real." I plan to sit with him this week, using my own FBI file, to discuss how millions of citizens have been tracked across administrations and decades because of their determination to secure what is so inherently ours: Equality and Freedom.

I highly recommend the reading list noted in this link: www.jsums.edu/hamerinstitute/resources/hamer-inistitute-suggested-reading-list/.

Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Black Scholar and aired on NPR. You can read her blog at: www.daphnemuse.blogspot.com.

Go well,

Copyright © Daphnew Muse


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