I must admit that I was a little leery when I walked into the movie theater this week to see Selma. It is difficult to make a biopic of someone from the modern era that is so well known as Martin Luther King Jr. I grew up listening and watching him speak. Each year around this time clips of his “I have a dream” or “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speeches would be shown to commemorate the importance of this historical figure. Everyone is familiar with Martin Luther King Jr. His mannerisms and didactic capabilities are implanted into our minds. To make a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. would be a daunting task, but somehow Ava DuVernay and everyone else who worked on Selma pulled it off. They made a film that is honest and true to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.
What can I say about Selma? I could do a typical review and tell you about the technical aspects of the film, but that would not do it justice. It is not a flawless movie, but that does not matter. It is a film that grabs you within the first few minutes and does not let you go. It brings the viewer face to face with the harsh truth of our own horrific history, a history we would like to forget. Church bombings, police beatings, murder, hatred, and racism are things we would like to distance ourselves from. We want no part of this ugly past, and yet it was not that long ago when this was who we were. We allowed racism to happen. It was written into our laws. We promoted hatred by forcing people of color to use separate bathrooms, water fountains, and entrances. We assembled on Sunday morning for worship, but it was not a mixed assembly. There were black churches and white churches, and sadly fifty years after the events of Selma many of our churches are still segregated today. We may want to forget all of this but we cannot. All we like sheep have gone astray.
Selma forces us to remember. This film will not allow us to forget the ones who sacrificed their lives for the opportunity to be able to register to vote. It invites us to remember how a short time ago human beings were once treated inhumanely in this country. Although the images on the screen are difficult to watch at times, we must not turn away. We must remember Selma to insure it will never happen again. We must remember Selma to keep alive the memory of those who gave so much in order to make us a better nation. The people of Selma did not fight with guns and knives. They did not strike back when they were struck. They laid down their lives and some of their lives were taken.
This is a film that needs to be seen by all. It is a reminder of what human beings are capable of. We are capable of tremendous acts of evil. This temptation is real. No one can escape it. Some of the people who slipped on white masks and picked up clubs were Bible believing Christians who never missed Sunday worship. At the same time, Selma reminds us that human beings are also capable of sacrifice and tremendous acts of courage. The people of Selma and others who came to help stared death in the face. They had no idea what would happen and they had to prepare themselves for the worst. Selma is an exceptional film because it reminds of these two extremes we encounter in life. It will not allow us to forget the ugliness, while encouraging us to be our best.
We are like sheep. We have gone astray, but the message of Selma is that redemption is possible. Things do not stay the same. A change is going to come. Although we have moved past the terrible circumstances of fifty years ago, we must not think that we have arrived. Dr. King famously spoke of a dream and that dream is still alive. Selma is a film about how ordinary average people are able to do amazing things to redeem the things in this world corrupted by sin. This movie is important because it gives us hope. We live in a fallen world, but it does not have to stay this way. Dr. King and the people around him put their trust in something bigger than themselves. They believed in a cause, but much more than that they believed in God. They believed in a story about a man who laid down his life to save many. It did not matter whether they were small in number or ill equipped for the task at hand, they believed in a God who uses what is weak and small. Fifty years ago in Selma, AL what was powerful and mighty lost and what was perceived to be weak won.
A simple film review is not enough for Selma, primarily because it is not a simple film. It is a reminder of something we would like to forget. It is a statement of truth that needs to be witnessed. It is a word of hope and encouragement to all people. Go sit in a movie theater and allow Selma to wash over you. Allow this powerful story to change you, the way the events it portrays changed an entire nation.
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