Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was our leader as we marched. Why did black Americans risk their lives and march across that bridge in Selma, Alabama? For the right to vote. Black Americans. In the 1960s. Not the 1860s. The 1960s.
January will be a major month for Women In Film. SELMA, directed by Ava DuVernay, opens nationwide this weekend. She has already won rave reviews from several top film critics in the country. She deserves that high praise. I've seen Selma and I want to see it again. This Sunday at the Golden Globes ceremony, Ava DuVernay will hear her name read as nominee for Best Director. A first for a black female filmmaker. Brava, Ava!
Filmmakers say that making biopics is difficult. I'm sure it is. Some critics and moviegoers may quibble about a biopic's accuracy. That happened with the fine portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered by Tom Wilkinson in Selma. Folks forget that the project is neither a documentary nor journalism. It's a feature based on the life and/or a key time in the life of a publicly known person. It's still a movie. As a filmmaker, I'm sure you try your hardest to get at the essential truth of the person's life or message. That said, you cannot deny that Hollywood just loves biopics come Oscar nomination time. This love has been throbbing for well over half a century. From the 1930s when Paul Muni, Spencer Tracy and the recently departed Luise Rainer won Oscars for playing true life characters to the modern-day Oscar victories of Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jamie Foxx and Matthew McConaughey (to name a few), the nearly 13 inch Golden Boy loves going home with performers who played real life people.
I will not be surprised to hear the name David Oyelowo announced on January 15th as a nominee for Best Actor and Selma should make the list of nominees for Best Picture.
When the Oscars ceremony was annually held in early April, the one and only time the telecast was postponed was in 1968 out of respect for the untimely death of Dr. King.
Compare that, in a way, to another biopic of sorts that opened last year. Jimi: All Is By My Side could not get the rights to classic Jimi Hendrix music. The film suffered from that. It also suffered from a shabby structure. The women in the life of the famous rock guitarist take more focus than he does. Also, the storyline meanders. It's as if Selma focused more on Coretta Scott King and made Martin a supporting player with the story ending before the march across the bridge in Selma. André Benjamin was good as Jimi Hendrix. But director/writer John Ridley couldn't overcome obstacles that arose when he couldn't get rights to significant material, specifically Hendrix's hit music.
If you can, go see Selma. You'll be moved. It shows us a life. It shows us a struggle. It shows people brave enough to oppose bigotry. It shows us the possibilities we all have.