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

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