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Released 6 February 2015
Director Ava DuVernay

David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Writer(s) Paul Webb

Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
Origin United Kingdom, United States
Running Time 128 minutes
Genre Biography, drama, history
Rating 12A

Marching on.

Selma has found itself in the dubious position of being a cause celebre. Having received early Oscar hype, it was assumed that the film would be amongst the front runners come award season but it was not to be so. Surprisingly, the cast and crew of Selma have been largely overlooked, much to the chagrin of cultural commentators who recognise the sorry lack of diversity amongst the listed nominees. Is this a case of male, white bias amongst Academy members or merely of mediocre filmmaking?

There can, of course, be no clear-cut answer to that question but it is significant to note that in an awards year of worthy, safe choices, Selma would have fit right in. This year’s season has been dominated thus far by competently made biopics that are elevated by excellent central performances. Selma (efficiently directed by Ava DuVernay) is easily the equal in both spirit and quality to The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game and yet David Oyelowo has unjustly failed to make the impact of either Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddie Redmayne.

The film takes place in Selma, a small town in Alabama. After countless acts of violence against black Americans in the South go unpunished, King decides that Selma will be the starting point of a great march that will highlight the inequalities in the voting system. Death, violence and infighting pave the difficult path towards the march. Amongst all this tension (skillfully built by DuVernay), the film is dominated by Oyelowo’s captivating performance. He has a wonderfully statesman-like presence, an energy that perfectly matches the image we all have of King as the passionate, eloquent orator. Behind those great speeches though is where Oyelowo really excels. Far from giving us a mere impersonation, he manages to breathe real life into a man who has become an untouchable icon. The film gives us King at his best and worst, capable of great compassion but also great doubt and fear.

Oyelowo’s nuanced performance is mirrored in the politics of the film as a whole, which are more complex than one would perhaps expect. Dissenting voices are given room to speak out against King’s methods and DuVernay doesn’t shy away from showing the real human consequences of the protest. At times, Selma is difficult to watch and shocking in its brutality; but is also uplifting and thought-provoking.

- Linda O’Brien