Selma is a interesting film on several counts and, given recent events in the US, a powerfully prescient and utterly engaging account of Martin Luther King’s involvement with the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965. The performances are well rounded (although one wonders where Tim Roth will go next after playing George Wallace and Sepp Blatter, surely Walter Palmer is all that is left) and the script does a great job of highlighting the tactical, and provocative, nature of peaceful protest.
In terms of telling a cinematic tale, the really smart choice here is putting the focus on a march. The language of cinema is, due to it’s visual nature, simple and the act of walking works perfectly on film. Walking on film is about agency, it’s the ultimate expression of individual freedom and forward movement. Think about Tony Manero strutting, the Wild Bunch going to their chosen fate, Lawrence walking out of the desert. Walking is so important that there are whole films based around not walking; Light Sleeper (1992), Taxi Driver (1976), Cosmopolis (2012) and many more see cars as isolation / retreat from the world. On film people walk for defiance, acceptance and belonging. I can’r help but think about the fact that my wife can’t walk home alone at night and what that says about the ownership of public space.
Selma is all about when to walk and why and, most importantly, who is taking those steps. It reclaims the cinematic portrayal of the Civil Rights struggle from Forrest Gump (white Southern manners ended that school segregation didn’t you know) and heroic FBI agents and hands it to it’s rightful owners.