There’s something unnerving and all too familiar about the way Ava DuVernay manages to capture the supposed intimate moments between Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, in “Selma.” Who of us have not had those sad yet all too real, gut-wrenching conversations with said black man as a black woman? Not necessarily one’s prompted by the FBI attempting to assassinate your character long before they leave you for dead; but the conversations when nervous laughter brought on by the comfort of humor when discussing the inevitability of death in the African American community.
One’s death is not necessarily always honorable, of martyrdom or “taken by hatred.” Unfortunately, survival is not always obtained through righteous means. These are my initial thoughts, within the first 26 minutes of the film. We’re so acquainted with death regardless of its non-discriminatory nature—us darker in hue. There’s an uneasiness the black women have as her man/husband/lover walks out of the door. No different than the anxiety she feels as her sons, her uncles, father or any other male relative or friend does the same. These days such angst is heightened because of the all telling, immediate nature of social media. I’ve always questioned, how did Coretta do it with such grace? DuVernay has profoundly illustrated not only the fear that taunts but also the strength of the black woman. Her part in the civil rights movement, her full body, mind, and spirit on the front lines by highlighting the roles of Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson) and Amelia Boyton (Lorraine Toussaint). The conversation between Amelia and Coretta before Coretta is to speak with Malcolm X spoke best to those that are tired of such movies about slavery, about the Civil Rights era. It is important to know that, to teach that we survived our story, our lives because of whence we came. Boyton explains to Coretta that she’s ready because of our heritage, our lineage. “[We] are already prepared.”
DuVernay did a very good job of showing how often the young’uns clashed with the old folk and the old folks bumped heads with the youths. The conversations between SNCC member’s, John Lewis (Stephan James) and James Forman (Trai Bryer) showed a difference in thought much like that of King and X. However, after Bloody Sunday it was clear that all ideologies led to the same river. DuVernay had a keen eye at authenticating the joint efforts of the Civil Rights era, as well the march in Selma. It is often overshadowed by King’s notoriety. There are key scenes with Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Civil Rights attorney Fred Gray, André Holland as Andrew Young. Other noteworthy and instrumental individuals are James Bevel (Common), Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), Cager Lee (Henry G. Sanders), Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Richie Jean Jackson (Niecy Nash), James Orange (Omar J. Dorsey), Viola Liuzzo and Annie Lee Cooper. Cooper played by none other than Oprah Winfrey. Historically, she is known as for standing up to Sheriff Jim Clark by punching him after Clark billy clubbed her in the neck. Aisha Coley brilliantly selected Nigel Thatcher as the movie’s Malcolm X. David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo are seamless to the spirits of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King.
I can’t help but think of how the marchers felt when the troopers withdrew on the second day out, the day before the white clergymen and others joined the march in solidarity. DuVernay answered my questions with the next scene. I love directors that are in tuned with the simplicity of human nature and the complexity of the human mind. She clearly studies the human condition and offers an honest assessment. What I have learned from Ava DuVernay’s visualization of yesterday is that steadfast knows no age or generation. If you want freedom, one cannot allow fear or danger to keep you hidden in atrophy—and then, call that life. They assassinated Malcolm X because he empowered us. He was for the betterment of black folks. But it is clear now (to me) that they assassinated Dr. King because he had the power to persuade others that we too, are humans. “Our society has distorted who we are.”
It can be argued that Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) was chosen as President Kennedy’s running mate, solely to pacify the South. Before July 14, 1960, Kennedy and Johnson were rivals. Johnson was from Texas. Johnson became President after the untimely and tragic death of the president. Johnson didn’t have Robert F. Kennedy, a forward thinker, as a brother or campaign manager. “Prejudice exists and probably will continue to … but we have tried to make progress and we are making progress. We are not going to accept the status quo,” Bobby said in 1968. Thus, Johnson’s sluggish haste toward inaction is understandable. It also forced his hand and gave those in the trenches renewed diligence. Progress must be taken because it is not guaranteed. This movie is relevant because those marches are still happening, confronting many ills. Sadly, much hasn’t changed. That’s what Ava sees, at least I think so.
Do they ever wonder what it must feel like to have to prove you are human too?