Heavy Lies the Crown – ★★★½
You will more than likely have heard about Selma because it got snubbed at the Oscars last month by not receiving a single acting credit or a directorial nod for its African-American female director Ava DuVernay. This years Oscars will be the whitest since 1998 and while Selma’s release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the march to Montgomery it couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Race relations are under a great amount of pressure stateside, with the recent spate of high profile shootings of both civilians and police officers.
Selma focus on one main event in the life of Martin Luther King – his attempt to secure equal voting rights. While segregation had officially ended in 1964, the practice was still common in America, especially in the southern states where there was a sizable African American population. Much was done to keep the voting register white and it was this injustice that became the focus of King’s attention, making him a thorn in President Lydon Johnson’s side.
David Oyelowo has the unenviable role of portraying one of the most famous orators of the 20th century. He does a fine job at capturing the turmoil that King must have suffered asking people to risk their lives in the name of justice and equality. Director DuVernay doesn’t gloss over the imperfections of King’s life and leaves it up to you to decide if these flaws were allowable. She highlights how King was no fool and realised the power of a camera. With America and the world watching, he came eyeball to eyeball with his oppressors and didn’t blink.
With any biopic tale there won’t be much time for the roles of other people. His wife (played by Carmen Ejogo) has little to do except play the fawning emotional stereotype. The biggest character after King is President Johnson played by Tom Wilkinson. We see how the two men did battle, each trying to see who would yield first.
Most Irish viewers will be predisposed to warm to and identify with aspects of Selma. The peaceful march concept inspired people like John Hume and Bernadette Devlin to use similar tactics to campaign for civil rights and an end to violence and sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Catholics in Northern Ireland were all too familiar with the tactics of vote-fixing in the form of Gerrymandering, and with recent disputes involving the flying of flags it seems relations may not be as rosy as imagined.
The film doesn’t pose too many questions or examine the age-old debate of using peace or violence to achieve your demands. The march itself only amounts to few minutes where instead it could have been used as a means to examine the life and struggles of ordinary people. Certainly peaceful means won out in Selma and yes there is an African-American in The White House, but nearly 70% of the male prisoners in America are black due largely to a biased legal system.
Hopefully there will come a time when people need films like Selma to be reminded of the injustices carried out against African-Americans in their own country. At the moment however Americans don’t need to be reminded, they can see it every day.
Selma is released nationwide on Friday the 6th of February