2 OSCAR NOMINATIONS! Best Picture, Best Original Song

Oscar Winner! Best Original Song. The story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s (David Oyelowo) historic struggle to secure voting rights for all people – a dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and led to President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Done well, the docudrama can be superior entertainment. The regal 'The King's Speech' -- about the stuttering Prince Albert -- is a recent example of a smart crowd-pleaser that made history come alive. But for Americans, even that great British history lesson has neither the emotional effect nor the staying power of 'Selma' -- not by a long shot.

"The timely 'Selma' ranks as one of the best in the genre. Polished and riveting, the civil rights drama is a must-see for both those who lived through the '60s and those who have only read what happened in textbooks.

'Selma' depicts the courageous actions taken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (a stunning David Oyelowo) and his followers to end institutional voting discrimination based on race in nine states, mostly in the deep South. Their efforts paid off when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"In the assured hands of director Ava DuVernay, we see the blood, sweat and fear that fomented change. We learn of the FBI harassment that tried to stop it. We also get incisive portraits of a heroic but ultimately human man and a nation crippled by a racism that still festers 50 years later.

"'Selma' has a big story to tell and does so in an ambitious and satisfying manner. Its most powerful sequences depict the landmark protest marches organized by King that took him and his followers from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, home of separationist Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth). DuVernay's re-creation of the first failed protest, the so-called 'Bloody Sunday,' slams home the brutal way police beat demonstrators as they marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It is wrenching to watch. Two other protest marches came after, the last one finally reaching its goal.

"Paul Webb's screenplay powerfully exposes the racism of the time and focuses on the personalities and the political machinations involved in the civil rights movement. We become flies on the wall in organizational meetings and boardrooms, including at the White House with LBJ (Tom Wilkinson, doing fine work in a part that has drawn criticism for underrepresenting the president's commitment to the civil rights legislation). It also addresses King's unfaithfulness to wife Coretta (an outstanding Carmen Ejogo), his own doubts and the fears he shares with his wife for their family's safety.

"Oyelowo, a British actor, is in full command at every emotional turn. And when the actor, who is perhaps best known for his role in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' stands up and orates, he sets the screen afire. The film features numerous other strong performances, including Oprah Winfrey's as Annie Lee Cooper, a protester who was denied her right to vote and refused to be silenced.

"Throughout, the director conveys what it was like to be a black American living in the South. To do so, 'Selma' revisits tragic historic events, such as the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black children and injured other churchgoers, along with the senseless deaths of many civil rights supporters.

"All of it serves as a painful reminder of the sacrifices made to achieve equality and justice. DuVernay wasn't able to use King's exact words for King's electrifying speeches due to copyright issues, but her film is electricity itself as it burrows into the soul of a man, a movement and a country.

"The film, a testament to how focused effort and strong leadership can lead to change that still resonates half a century later, is especially timely, given the race-related outrage that has boiled over recently in Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout the country. It's also topical in its central theme, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court's 2013 decision that has all but defanged the Voting Rights Act.

"For all these reasons, 'Selma' demands to be seen now and by the generations that follow."

- San Jose Mercury News


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