Updated: Dec 29, 2022
My friend Jeremy and I were discussing the movie Selma recently. Following that conversation he composed this article and was gracious enough to allow us to post it as a recommendation for families on Martin Luther King Day. We love the way movies can give our kids a perspective they can't get from history books and the movie Selma is a great perspective into the life of Dr. King.
By guest blogger, Jeremy Landes:
Most of us grew up after 1968 - when Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life was taken by an assassin. On MLK Day, the media will often summarize King's legacy by replaying the"I Have a Dream" speech or recalling his leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott. Four years ago, Selma was released in theaters, telling the story of a 57-mile march King helped organize to help African-Americans being denied the right to vote in Alabama.
If you watch (or re-watch) Selma, which we encourage teens to do alongside their parents, look for some of the choices director Ava DuVernay and producer Oprah Winfrey made in telling this story. For example:
- Why does the opening shot show King practicing a speech in front of a mirror, then stopping to complain about his appearance? Beyond the words he speaks, how does this tell the audience what they are about to see? Is this movie going to be about putting King on a pedestal for adoration? How can you tell?
- The first 5-10 minutes of good movies usually set the tone for what the rest of the movie will be about. Why would an explosion be shown in such a stylized way and without blood? As the camera pulls away from the destroyed church, from whose perspective do you imagine we're seeing the tragedy?
- You can quickly get carried away in an emotional tide by several of the injustices you see committed against African-Americans throughout Selma. Does the director want you to feel pity for them? Disgust toward white offenders? Or is DuVernay attempting to surprise the audience and adopt a more complex and subtle approach to uncover more layers in this story? Which characters aren't who they seem at first and why?
There are thousands of historical incidents that could be transformed into compelling dramas. What you leave out of your story can be just as important as what you include. Spike Lee made a 102-minute documentary, 4 Little Girls, dealing only with the circumstances surrounding the same church bombing that Selma re-creates in just over two minutes. As you watch this movie, think about what plot points DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb decided were needed to bring this episode in recent American history to our attention. Are there scenes they left out that you wanted to see? Are there any ways they may have overreached in their attempt to move audiences toward compassion and understanding?
Please use the comments to share a few of your thoughts on Selma.