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Article by Teddy Durgin

'Selma' may prove to be king of the Oscars

I sometimes marvel at the exact point in time - September 1970 - at which I was born. I wonder what I would be like if I were born 10 years earlier... or 20 years earlier. I'd like to think I'd be the same truly awesome guy. But who knows? What would be my thoughts, my values? Hey, what would be my prejudices? I missed the whole tumultuous 1960s. The assassinations, the protests, the marches, the riots... they're like myths to me and to many in my generation. By the time I came along, America and the world were ready for some fun, some neon colors, mullets and big afros. We wanted our MTV! At the same time, many of us white kids didn't think a thing about going to school with black kids. It just never occurred to us that this WASN'T the norm. We were a generation who unabashedly cheered for Lynn Swann, Eddie Murray and Dr. J. On any given night, we tuned in and loved George Jefferson, J.J. Evans and Fred Sanford. We listened to Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and Kool and the Gang. The groundwork had been laid. Of course, there was still racism and social and economic chasms to traverse. But we were the first generation of Americans that were coming close to living Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. Watching "Selma," I once again marvel at how God or the fates, or whatever you believe, put someone like MLK in the exact moment of time when he was absolutely needed the most. "Selma" is set during the three-month period in 1965 when King (David Oyelowo) was called to Alabama to lead a truly dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights for African-Americans in that state. He would organize a historic, non-violent march from Selma to Montgomery defying the will of the racist Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and, along the way, convince President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Director Ava DuVernay finds a good balance between realizing these big, historic events on screen and also dramatizing the small, intimate moments that sell this picture as a human story. These were real flesh-and-blood people who participated in these events. King was surrounded not by a circle of people who agreed with his every thought, word and deed - oh, he was certainly admired - but by people who challenged him, often members of his own inner circle, and he was certainly pulled in several different directions at once. This film shows the man's savvy and intelligence and his marvelous command of language that made him such a great leader. And just like Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" gave us a man tasked with a momentous destiny while dealing with the pressures of being a husband and father, so does "Selma" show King and the personal pressures he was under to change America, all the while dealing with a wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), who has learned of his infidelities. DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb pull off a neat trick. They don't go overboard in showing us King's personal failings. But they show you just enough of his imperfections to actually make you appreciate even more how King was able to keep it all together as his place in history was becoming more and more clear. If anything, the scenes between the marvelous Oyelowo and Ejogo are so strong that I wish there were more of them. There is just as much tension in King leading a march directly toward a blockade of state police ready with batons and tear gas as there is in the scene where Coretta asks her husband the simple question, "Did you love any of them?" (meaning his mistresses). The wait for his response will have you on the edge of your seat. There weren't a lot of dry eyes around me at my screening the other night, mine included. It was a great, multi-racial shared experience - the kind that would not have been possible in 1965.

"Selma" is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment and brief strong language.


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