Though the events depicted in Ava DuVernay’s Selma occurred fifty years ago, the message resonates even more in light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Selma begins with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway in 1964, then quickly cuts to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a racist act that resulted in the deaths of four school girls.
King quickly turns his attention to voting rights in the South, where, while it’s technically legally for black citizens to vote, they are required to jump through a series of essentially impossible hoops to do so. This is best demonstrated by a scene in which Annie Lee Cooper of Selma, Alabama attempts to register to vote at the local courthouse. She is denied by the white registrar when she can’t all 67 Alabama County judges.
Wisely, DuVernay doesn’t try to present a Martin Luther King biopic per se. Instead, the focus is on a crucial event—the effort to attain equal voting rights for African Americans. Dr. King faced an uphill battle, and DuVernay is careful to show how King’s efforts affected both his personal and professional life.
King and his associates, well aware of the discrimination faced by Ms. Cooper and others, work to organize a march from Selma to the courthouse in Montgomery as a means to peacefully protest the arcane regulations blacks are repeatedly subjected to, as a means of preventing them from registering to vote. Word of the protest leaves segregationist Governor George Wallace seething, and he immediately sends out local police to disrupt the demonstrators through any means necessary. Violence, and intimidation ensues. Meanwhile, King asks President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) for help; while he sympathizes, Johnson feels that political realities make fixing black voting issues something that needs to be put on the back burner. King concludes that the only way to get action is to force the President’s hand. Using his years of experience, King strategically puts tremendous pressure on political, judicial, and legal authorities to the point where they had no choice but to move the needle.
Often, when a director is making a movie about a legendary figure, they get so focused on him, they forget to develop the supporting characters. Not so here. Ava DuVernay, stays focused on every scene, and character, keeping her eye on the ultimate payoff. I’ve never been a huge Oprah Winfrey fan, but her performance as Annie Lee Cooper is strong, and affecting. David Oyelowo is excellent. I’ve heard he lobbied seven years for the role, and it’s clear he put everything he had into it. Both during the big speeches, and the quiet moments with his family, and associates, he manages to make him seem both larger than life, and all too human. Say what you will, but I’ll never understand how David Oyelowo didn’t score a Best Actor Oscar nomination. That gripe aside, Selma is a movie that should be seen by everyone at least once.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Paramount’s 1080p transfer is absolutely stunning. The film was shot using an Arri Alexa XT Plus camera with Hawk C-Series, V-Lite, V-Series and Angenieux HR lenses. Those digital cameras are some good stuff…As such, the image looks awesome throughout. Colors are bright, and vivid. Contrast is excellent.
Audio is available via English 5.1 DTSHD Master Audio, with a choice of French 5.1 Dolby Digital or English Audio Description. Also on the disc are your choice of subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. Commentary can also be selected from the audio menu: Commentary by Director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo or Commentary by Director Ava DuVernay, Director of Photography Bradford Young, and Editor Spencer Averick. Disc two of the set is a DVD offering audio choices between English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description, and Subtitles in either English, French, or Spanish. As you might expect, audio is clear as a bell, music is perfectly balanced as well.
The following extras are available:
- Commentary with Director Ava DuVernay and Actor David Oyelowo: A discussion of the film’s historical context, and basic structure, as well as David Oyelowo’s approach to his performance.
- Commentary with DuVernay, Director of Photography Bradford Young, and Editor Spencer Averick: This track deals more with the technical aspects of shooting the film, some of the issues they ran into, setting up shots, etc.
- The Road to Selma (HD, 13:20) A brief look at the history behind the film.
- Recreating Selma (HD, 26:30) In this “Making-of” featurette, we get behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with cast, and crew.
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD, 29:40) Seven in total. Also includes cast improvisations, and footage from Oyelowo’s ‘picture wrap.’
- “Glory” Music Video (HD, 3:10) Featuring John Legend and Common.
- Historical (HD, 5:20) Newsreels and image gallery.
- Selma Student Tickets: Donor Appreciation (HD, 3:00) Footage from free screenings of the film for student’s across the nation.
- A tour of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (HD, 7:50)
- Text-based discussion guide for educators.
- Digital Copy
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