Selma

Dozens of films have been created to depict the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—but none have been as riveting and piercing as ‘Selma’. In delicate detail, the movie highlights the three 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches which ultimately led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The movie also resurfaces sensitive topics like MLK’s marital infidelity, FBI wire tapings and intimidation tactics, and the initial pushback from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

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Directed by Ava DuVernay, the movie has a crowded lineup including David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Oyelowo and Ejogo were spitting images of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and his late wife. From voice to posture to presentation, the pair is the most potent part of the film. Their lonesome moments together on screen echoes true unification of one of the greatest couples of all time.

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Even some of the notable moments in history makes your whole body shake in disbelief when ‘Selma’ reenacts the occurrences. For example, the 4 little girls and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church is one of the country’s most heinous crimes. We ought to all be familiar with it, but for some reason when DuVernay gives her rendition of the bombing it takes cinematic recreation to a whole new level.

The same approaches civil rights activists displayed in 1965 are mirror images of the work being committed today. Riots and protests have emerged all over the country for Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. In my mind the biggest uproar has been in the small suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Ferguson has drawn thousands of people in hope to get answers and justice.

Selma is the ideal learning tool for this Black History Month. As the first major motion picture depicting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, ‘Selma’ can be a direct connection to opening up conversation about other tense cities like Watts in 1965, Los Angeles in 1992, and even, Ferguson in 2014.

Gun violence and police brutality in 2015 is what voting rights was in 1965– a call to action to promote unity and change. Fifty years later, racially motivated disparities of the world are an opportunity to respond like they did in Selma. Anytime we witness a racial injustice or inequality it is our duty to mount up in the same fashion as the leaders in Selma.

The most rewarding part of Selma is the showcase of the unsung heroes like Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Viola Liuzzo, John Lewis, James Reeb, and Ralph Abernathy. American history injects lethal amount of untold truths surrounding African American history. As a child, I was taught the bare minimum about slavery and Martin Luther King Jr. was the poster child for the Civil Rights Movements. It is pure excitement when movies like Selma, 12 Years A Slave, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler can bring cinematic clarity to these unknown circumstances of historical events.

DuVernay wasted no time getting straight to the point. My only question is: Where has Ava DuVernay been? Although she has other smaller film projects, we, as movie spectators, need more from her cinematic bank. Her delivery was mere perfection and visually, trumps every introductory African American History course by strategically focusing on the height of Dr. Martin Luther King’s career and intricate details that surrounded it.

5 STARS: ‘Selma’ is the best film of 2014 and serves a timely purpose in the wake of the civil rights and liberties that are currently being taken advantage of. This film is a fruitful yet frightening, gut-wrenching yet glorious reminder that Selma was just a battle in an on-going race war.

 

February 2014 Throwback Movie of the Month: Betty and Coretta

“They refused to let tragedy defeat them!” -Ruby Dee

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Legendary actress and civil rights activist, Ruby Dee, provided beautiful narration for Lifetime’s movie, Betty and Coretta. The wives of late Civil Rights leaders, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces after their husbands were assassinated in the 1960s. In alignment with Black History Month, the movie has perfect timing. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are easily associated with coining and strengthening the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. Betty Shabazz (Mary J. Blige) was left with 6 girls after her husband was assassinated in 1965. Many speculations were made surrounding Malcolm X’s murder, but Dr. Shabazz focused on her small tribe of girls and furthering her education. She received her doctorate degree and began working as a professor at Medgar Evers College. In 1997, after 23 days in the hospital, Dr. Shabazz died from burn complications of a house fire that was set by her grandson, Malcolm Shabazz.

Only three years after Malcolm X’s assassination, Coretta Scott King (Angela Bassett) became a widow too when Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on a Memphis hotel balcony. Both Betty and Coretta were determined to carry on their husbands’ legacies through service, hard work, and campaigning. Coretta fought the nasty allegations that surfaced from the FBI’s surveillance and wire tapping of Dr. King and petitioned for the government to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. While, Dr. Shabazz tried to change the minds of people who believed her Malcolm X was a traitor or trouble maker.

Coretta Scott King passed on January 30, 2006 after respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer. Both women rest peacefully next to their husbands.

Mary J. Blige and Angela Bassett didn’t quite win me over as Betty and Coretta, but there were hesitantly believable moments. I have never been a fan of Mary J. Blige as a actress or dancer, but Betty and Coretta might be her best work. On the other hand, I am positively an Angela Bassett fan. She’s always plays the more serious roles, and Ms. Bassett is known for playing non-fictional people. Ironnically, she’s played Dr. Betty Shabazz twice, once in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) and then on a smaller scale in 1995’s Panther. Bassett has also played Rosa Parks, Michael Jackson’s mommy, Catherine, and Notorious BIG’s mother, Voletta Wallace.

Malik Yoba had a shocking resemblance to Dr. King. I was pleasantly surprised by his presence. Yoba has kept a relatively low profile since his hit Fox sitcom, New York Undercover. But, he was handsome, brilliant, and captivating.

According to a February 1, 2003 Washington Post article, Malcolm X’s third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King spoke out about the imprecisions in the biographical film. Both daughters wish the women TV network would have consulted all of the children before filming. Shabazz’s cited her mother’s portrayal as the biggest inaccuracy, claiming the movie is ”fiction.”

The reality is that the movie, accurate or not, made viewers ponder on the already established legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. More importantly, it made us focus on two widows who for so long stood behind shadows. Admittedly, I never knew how many times Malcolm X was shot (21 times), that the FBI tried to incriminate Martin Luther King, Jr. with surveillance, and specific details of Dr. Betty Shabazz’s death. Of course, I was aware of the historical events, but the movie prompted me to do more research.

3 Stars: It is difficult to produce a made for TV movie, it’s even more difficult to convey a true story. Similar to VH1 and TLC, the Lifetime Network created a movie that was based off of facts and perceptions. Ultimately, the movie played the best role by being both informative and entertaining.

I urge you to learn one new Black History fact, for it’s not just “Black” History…but History!Betty-and-Coretta

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Civil Rights Widows
From left to right, Dr. Betty Shabazz, the late wife of Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of the late Medgar Evers

42 (4.11.13)

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42 is the only number in Major League Baseball that has been retired. No other major league baseball player can bare that number. This clause alone speaks volumes to impact that Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, had on the league. Even after his death in 1956, Rachel Robinson kept her late husband’s legacy alive through the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

On April 8th, the kids and I were simply amazed by his story. Any person who has even scratched the surface of African American History, knows Jackie Robinson was the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But at times, his strength, his self-control, and overall knowledge of baseball are overlooked with the title.

“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.”
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), MLB executive, was convinced that professional baseball was ready for a Black player. He wanted someone who was strong enough to endure the backlash, name calling, and ridicule. But he also wanted someone just as strong enough to ignore. There’s a scene where Phillies GM Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) spewed racial slurs at Jackie Robinson every time he went up to bat. Chapman taunted him with words like “monkey”, “nigger”, and “Bojangles”. Mr. Rickey, as he was often referred to in the movie, reassured Jackie that Chapman’s ignorance only made fans sympathize more with his struggle. Before agreeing to sign the contract, Jackie Robinson reassured Mr. Rickey that although he would be tested, he would be strong enough to refrain from retaliations or rebuttals.

“Don’t get carried away, Mr. Rickey, that’s still a nigger out there!”
Mr. Rickey caught major slack when he insisted on acquiring an African American baseball player. One of the coaches quickly displayed his feeling towards Jackie Robinson when he reminded his superior that newest member of the team was just a “nigger.” Even quicker, Mr. Rickey dismissed his comments and reassured the coach that everyone must become familiar with Jackie Robinson’s presence on the roster and overcome any racial prejudice that they possess in order to accept him on the team. Racism, undoubtedly, was the biggest topic of the movie. It reminds us that Jackie Robinson forced baseball athletes, executives, and fans in 1947 to question the validity of their hatred towards African Americans. Posing questions like…How do I support the game I love when it uplifts the people I hate? Is it acceptable to allow African Americans play amongst their White counterparts in baseball? Does my hatred for others dictate my behaviors, even if means ruining something I enjoy? It seems as if the movie answers these questions. Of course not all racist Baseball lovers became non-racist after 1947, but Jackie Robinson’s presence generated those questions which are relevance enough.

“Your enemy will come out with force and you can’t meet him on his own ground.”
Jackie Robinson faced many enemies, some even on his own team. Players that did not want to share the locker room with him. Baseball managers that did not want to share the mound with him. Fans that did not want see the Brooklyn Dodgers with a Black man on the bench. None of those stipulations stopped Jackie Robinson from establishing himself as one of the best baseball players of all time. In complete silence, he was able to perplex pitchers with his swift feet, amaze little White boys with mound rituals, and stun the world with unpredictable game statistics. It’s clear that Jackie Robinson did NOT meet the enemy on their own ground Instead, he created the playing field and raised the bar in baseball.

“God built me to last”
It’s clear that strength is the minimum requirement you must have in order to break a color barrier with any major entity. Jackie Robinson, in many different instances in the movie, he would say: “GOD BUILT ME TO LAST.” This constant phrase is not only reassurance for a young Black man from Cairo, Georgia but also to his friends and family who were concerned about his safety. The statement means Jackie Robinson, no matter what the adversary, can overcome the hurdle or difference. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you declare that the highest power you proclaim has created you to endure any and every thing, then only solidifies your endurance and perseverance. (I think I have a new catch phrase!)

The cast was incredible! Harrison Ford reminds you that the acting profession is ageless. 42 introduces you to some bright, beautiful Black faces like Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Andre Holland. The movie hit an immediate hometown soft spot with its many references to Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a baseball organization founded in 1887, was an arch revival of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pirates Pitcher threw pitches aiming at Jackie Robinson’s head. Of course certain parts of the movies were embellished for production, but Jackie Robinson was hit in the head with fast moving baseballs. (That’s would have been my last day as a major league baseball player)

My favorite Pittsburgh connection was Wendell Smith, former Pittsburgh Courier sports reporter. There are always those hometown stories that don’t get as much publicity as the Jackie Robinson stories. But, Wendell Smith, an African American reporter, was not allowed to sit in the Whites Only press box. Smith was the first African American reporter to join the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was influential in Mr. Rickey’s decision to sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers. Wendell Smith also traveled with Jackie Robinson his first two years in the league because segregation laws would not allow either to stay in hotels.

5 STARS: This is not just African-American History…this is AMERICAN HISTORY! The movie brought to life the Major League Baseball in 1947 and its biggest glory of breaking the color line in baseball. Jackie Robinson forever changed the game!!!

42 “hits” theatres tomorrow, April 12th! Check it out!

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