Last night the family went to see “Selma,” a movie that dramatically fictionalizes Martin Luther King Jr.’s protests in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote unhampered by interference from racist government officials.
I thought the movie was excellent. The speeches and scenes seemed very true to life, and I believe that they took the texts of speeches directly from transcripts and recordings. [UPDATE: This belief is wrong. See UPDATE below.] The movement’s use of the media, and desire to affect whites’ opinions by seeking out confrontation in a nonviolent manner that would make the protestors seem sympathetic, was well reflected in the film, which also addressed both the FBI surveillance of King and (subtly) his extramarital affairs.
The movie was driven by the performance of David Oyelowo as King. His performance was compelling, to the point where it was possible to suspend disbelief and imagine you were watching historical events unfold. The movie concentrates on the events in Selma; there is no assassination or “I have a dream” speech.
I don’t follow movies or Oscar nominations. When I walked out of the movie I said to Mrs. P.: clearly the Oscars are going to be all over that. She tells me that’s not so. Apparently it got a “Best Picture” nomination and only one other: a nomination for Best Original Song, for some piece of crap rap song that runs over the credits and very nearly ruined the whole thing for me. But what is stunning to me is that there was no Best Actor nomination for Oyelowo — for a performance that, to me, was one of the best I have seen in years.
The nominations for Best Actor are all from films I haven’t seen, although I intend to see one of them: The Imitation Game. (I like Benedict Cumberbatch quite a bit from the Sherlock series and will happily watch him in anything that is rumored to be good.) So I can’t say with any certainty that Oyelowo deserves it more. But it’s very, very hard for me to imagine Michael Keaton or Steve Carell delivering a performance better than the one I saw last night.
For what it’s worth, Mrs. P. says that the buzz out there is that the filmmakers did not play the political game well in terms of getting out the screeners to the chuckleheads who vote on this stuff, promoting it, and so forth. Of course, that simply reveals the truth of what George Lucas on the topic in the clip below. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, I love this quote about the Oscars: “It’s nothing to do with artistic endeavor. At all.”
UPDATE: it turns out that I was wrong to assume that the speeches in the movie are taken directly from speeches given by King. This Washington Post article explains:
What’s more, “Selma,” which opened in Washington on Thursday, makes the bold move of dispensing with King’s most familiar and famous speeches: Working with an original script by Paul Webb, DuVernay carefully paraphrased King’s oratory, so that the words Oyelowo speaks in the film have King’s cadence and meaning, even when they’re not literal.
The reason is simple: “We never even asked” for the rights to King’s speeches, said DuVernay during a recent visit to Washington. “Because we knew those rights are already gone, they’re with Spielberg, and secondly we found a way to do it where we didn’t have to ask for permission, because with those rights came a certain collaboration.”
I have heard a lot of King’s speeches, and I think the filmmakers did a great job replicating the tone of those speeches in the film — which is why I had assumed they had used original texts.
Thanks to commenter gitarcarver for enlightening me (and you).