“Selma” captures a crucial moment in MLK history
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
British actor David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leading the second march onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing the Alabama River in Selma, Alabama.
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Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital copy; 2014; PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment and brief strong language; Streaming via Amazon Video, Apple TV, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: "Recreating Selma" featurette
STRONGLY EMOTIONAL, poignant and superbly done, director Ava DuVernay's "Selma" was a fitting way to mark the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Common and a host of others star in the film that chronicles the journey of Dr. Martin Luther King and many others as they fought for voting rights of African American residents in Selma, Ala. "When you really get to the connective tissue of that story, it's just a beautiful tapestry of dignity and determination that is so beyond anything I knew as a fact in a book," DuVernay says in "The Road to Selma."
The Blu-ray release surpasses the expectations of those simply hoping to add a historical film to their home movie collection. Bonus features include some hefty educational material. Every public and private high school in the U.S. will receive a free copy, along with companion study guides thanks to Paramount Home Media Distribution.
The special features are packed with moving interviews, insightful commentary and archival footage from 1965 newsreels. "The Road to Selma" traces the film's history, which dates back to 2007. That's when Oyelowo first read the script and fell in love with the role of Dr. King. "I first read the Selma script in 2007 and upon reading just knew I was going to play this part, and so I wrote it in my diary on [July 24, 2007]," Oyelowo says in the extra.
The British actor spent many years studying Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement to prepare for the role. "David is incredibly studious. He comes to the set with a wealth of knowledge and research behind him so you feel incredibly safe that whatever we're going to explore is going to be within the parameters of reality," Ejogo says. She stars alongside Oyelowo as Coretta Scott King.
The script fell into the hands of several directors before landing in DuVernay's lap. Oyelowo met DuVernary on the set of "Middle of Nowhere" and suggested she take a look at the script for "Selma." DuVernay jumped at the chance to bring history to the big screen. "So often [when] we think of Dr. King, we think of him in stone, as a statue, as a speech; but he was a man and all of these people are ordinary people just like you and me who went beyond what anyone thought they could do," she says.
Oyelowo recruited Winfrey for the project while working with her on the set of Lee Daniels' "The Butler." Winfrey joined the cast as Annie Lee Cooper, a woman brave enough to attempt voter registration several times in Selma. "The work that we're doing here is about telling a story not of just Martin Luther King but of the people who allowed and made Martin Luther King's three-month visit in Selma possible," Winfrey says.
"Recreating Selma" takes us to the set in Alabama. Filming on location was crucial for many scenes, including the historic marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. During that march, many protestors were injured by police and other citizens as they stood up for the rights of African American citizens. "Fifty years ago, their feet actually touched the same pavement that my feet [touched in the film]. And there's something spiritually powerful about that when you know you're walking literally walking in the same footsteps of those people who paved the way for you," Winfrey says.
Andrew Young, a politician and human rights activist who worked alongside Dr. King in Selma, showed up on set during filming to observe and share his experiences. He also offers insight in the special features. "It's an incredible gift both to the film and personally to be so close to these people who did such heroic things. It really reinforces the idea that there are legends among us," DuVernay says.
Even more insight about the film and the events comes in commentary from DuVernay, Oyelowo, Director of Photography Bradford Young and Editor Spencer Averick. Another treat on the Blu-ray release is a peek inside of The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. Historian Sam Walker provides a tour of the museum and shares his own stories about being arrested twice in Selma at age 11 for crusading alongside adults.
(1) Jimmie Lee Jackson (Lakeith Stanfield) was brutally beaten and shot by Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler. (2) Dr. King speaks at Jimmie Lee Jackson's funeral.
An extensive study guide features a list of things to consider before and after watching the film, talking points for media literacy and film studies, information about Dr. King and discussion points about the lyrics of "Glory," the main theme on the film's soundtrack.
Oyelowo recognizes that Hollywood is often about self-service and benefiting the cast and crew, but "Selma" is unique. "I think the difference with this film is that I can genuinely say there's an overriding feeling of service. How can we serve this incredible community who daily put their lives on the line for the privileges we now enjoy?"
— DeAnne M. Williams
THE FIRST MARCH - MARCH 7, 1965: SCLC colleague Rev. Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce) and SNCC leader John Lewis (Stephan James) and 600 people started a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. State troopers met the marchers at the edge of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that day became known as "Bloody Sunday."
(1) THE SECOND MARCH - MARCH 9: Dr. King and 2,000 marchers, including hundreds of clergy from around the U.S. made their way onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (2) Rev. James Reeb (Jeremy Strong), center, of Boston was brutally attacked by a group of white men after the march and died two days later. (3) Dr. King paused on the bridge and prayed and then rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers.
MARCH 15: President Johnson addressed the U.S. Congress. “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
THE THIRD MARCH - MARCH 21: The federally sanctioned march from Selma to Montgomery, were protected by hundreds of federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and F.B.I. agents. The marchers covered between 7 to 17 miles per day.
(1) MARCH 25: The final rally, held on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. (2) Dr. King finished his speech with the words from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet! Our God is marching on. Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!”