Selma

Just a note to encourage you to see Selma. I’ve spent some time in Selma, visiting relatives and also doing research for my civil rights novel Birmingham, and it was good to see that big ugly bridge on film.

Yes, the movie does distort history rather badly regarding Lyndon Johnson and his response to the Civil Rights movement.

On the other hand, it’s strikingly accurate regarding the events in Selma. For one thing it portrays M.L. King as something less than an absolute hero of the movement. Selma was not King’s finest hour and the movie shows it as such. It also accurately portrays King as the indispensable leader of the movement, a man whose voice and reputation could draw reporters and move the masses. There’s an open-ended quality to Selma’s storytelling that leaves you in some doubt as to what actually happened–why did King turn back?–and who were the people most to admire.

Also, the movie doesn’t underplay nor overplay the role of faith in the movement. It clearly shows it as a church movement, with ministers leading the way. It doesn’t make them any better or any worse than they were, nor does it overly dramatize their faith struggles. It’s just factual: this is where it happened (in church); this is who led (the ministers); this is what they said (God cares about our treatment). This isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any big deal, but think about all the ways that Hollywood could play this. They were willing to distort Johnson’s role in order to make a better story; they could have done the same with matters of faith.

All that aside, it’s a pretty good movie and tells an important chapter of our history. The acting is good, the cinematography is good. The faces of the many extras they recruited in Selma are wonderful to observe.

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5 Responses to “Selma”

  1. interstitialamerica Says:

    Curious what you think, minute 26:
    http://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-weekend/marketplace-weekend-friday-january-9-2015
    Is he just a sour historian unwilling to tolerate storytelling liberties, or is it a valid criticism?

  2. Silas Says:

    Curious what you think, minute 26:

    http://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-weekend/marketplace-weekend-friday-january-9-2015

    Is he just a sour historian unwilling to tolerate storytelling liberties, or is it a valid criticism?

    • timstafford Says:

      I think Garrow is a little sour in the way he puts it. “The fake Dr. King” suggests that nobody should ever dramatize King’s life, or anybody else’s. I think Selma, though it had to invent speeches rather than use King’s actual words, does a decent job of conveying his message. Of course, I’d much rather King’s children would restricting access to his life. But it’s not Selma’s fault that they do, and I appreciate that Selma conveys as much of his life as it does. (I confess, I was quite aware of these restrictions on King’s words when I wrote Birmingham.)

  3. gssawyer Says:

    Looking forward to seeing the movie, and to reading Birmingham. Mr. Stafford, I have been looking online for an old short story you wrote in the 70’s or early 80’s for Campus Life magazine about a gold locket. It meant a lot to me, and I used to read it to my teenage campers when I was a counselor. Now I’d like to share it with my students and my 16-year old daughter. Might you direct me to where I could find it? Thank you!

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