Berlinale: Selma

Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, André Holland, Giovanni Ribisi, Common, Alessandro Nuvola, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth, Colman Domingo and Oprah Winfrey

by Joanna Orland

The hype behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. film Selma almost eclipses the success story that it truly is.  Being declared the biggest of this year’s Oscar snubs (in spite of getting a Best Picture nomination), the true story of the Dr. King led Selma protest march of 1965 is an inspiration to witness on film.  This depiction of the true story is a solidly made film, and director Ava DuVernay uses this movie to express her very important political voice.  But, it should not be a surprise that Selma is lacking a Best Director Oscar nomination – not because it has a black female director at the helm, but merely because its directorial style is not a unique voice, albeit an important one.  The voice comes from the politics behind the story with other more innovative directors including Boyhood‘s Linklater and Birdman‘s Iñárritu far more deserving of the technical filmmaking accolades.  That said, I do not mean to belittle DuVernay or Selma, as this film is quite a feat.

It’s been fifty years since the death of Dr. King and Selma is the first feature film to be made of his influence.  The film itself took roughly 8 years from inception to final product, with various directors being attached to the project before DuVernay was put forward by star David Oyelowo.  The drama of the inspirational story itself is enough to carry the film even without such a strong lead performance, but Oyelowo heightens the film by his mere presence.  He embodies Dr. King so convincingly, it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever portraying the activist on screen, in spite of plans for an upcoming Steven Spielberg film of King’s life story.

The filmmakers themselves are an inspiration, with Oyelowo declaring themselves as “cinemactivists” who utilize cinema as a medium to express a political voice.  Hearing their own thoughts and words on Selma at the Berlinale press conference was empowering not only for the filmmakers, but for the audience listening to their inspiring opinions and stories.  DuVernay explained how because of this film, a charitable initiative in America has been formed, allowing school children of a certain age to go to the cinema for free to watch Selma as an educational experience.  Witnessing them talk of some of the positive outcomes this movie has created was a highlight of this year’s 65th Berlinale film festival, and the second time I’ve felt so inspired as I have previously met DuVernay at the UK premiere of Selma.

While the movie itself is standard fare, the story and lead performance make this film the most important one in cinemas today.

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