On July 30, during John Lewis’ eulogy, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, Barack Obama said these words: “We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting,” because that’s what the movie Selma is all about: the right to vote. This fundamental right which allows the self-determination of individuals in a democratic society was in fact not granted to the black American community until 1965 with the publication of the Voting Right Act, finally obtained after a fight led by Martin Luther King and his fight comrades.
The film Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay in 2014, traces the fight led by Martin Luther King, in 1965, in Selma, Alabama, in the southern United States. The segregationist states of the South were then plagued by a climate of hatred towards the African American community, and, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, still did not respect the principle of equality between individuals. More and more voices are being raised to challenge these injustices, using various means. Martin Luther King, on the other hand, chooses to lead the fight for political equality for all Americans by relying on non-violence, rather than direct confrontation.
The film allows us to observe the historical context of this period, which is actually quite unknown. Indeed, we tend to believe that the inequalities stopped with the publication of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was supposed to end the segregation of black people in the United States. But this film demonstrates a completely different reality: the problems of the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, ready to make politics more strategic rather than to be based on human rights, the pressures exerted by the FBI and the authorities of certain States of the South on civil rights movements, but also on the divisions that may exist within the movement itself, for example on how to be successful in their campaign.
Director Ava DuVernay, famous for having produced works committed to the African American community, shows us through this film the difficulties of the fight for civil rights. For this featured film, she also received the 2014 Women Film Critics Circle Award.
The film gives us several interesting portraits of the different protagonists that took part in the events happening in Selma. We find Martin Luther King, who doubts his own choices and the results of his battles, played by actor David Oyelowo, or even the pro-segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, played by David Roth.
Selma thus educates on the progress made by the American society thanks to the civil rights movement. This work highlights one of the strong moments of the fight towards racial segregation and therefore constitutes a true historical and formative testimony, highlighting strong personalities in American history. However, despite the rights acquired during this period, it should be of concern that Afro-Americans are still victims of many inequalities today, especially concerning discrimination in housing, police violence, judicial errors, or quite simply the ordinary racism that persists in American society.
Translated by Iman Seepersad