The story of the 1965 voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama, which collectively helped push forward the landmark Voting Rights Act, is a story of courage and sacrifice, of course.
"Selma," Ava DuVernay's vivid film about the efforts surrounding them, stresses the bravery of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and the men and women who jeopardized their safety to peacefully march for justice. It's packed with heart-rending images of people joined together, standing up to brutality.
From a filmmaking standpoint, it's extraordinarily moving and well-crafted. But that's the easy part.
The hard part, and what makes this one of the year's most notable movies, is the way DuVernay cuts through the immense mythology to delve into King's brilliant political mind. The picture shows us the ways he and fellow protest leaders meticulously chose Selma, plotted the marches and manipulated the media in order to create a sufficient outcry and grab the attention of a wavering President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson).
It's an emotional movie grounded in reality that respects these people enough to avoid veering into sentimentality. Oyelowo's King is alternately filled with doubt and self-disgust at his personal failings and total, blazing commitment to bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice, as he famously put it.
The picture demands to be seen because it is ultimately about how to protest effectively, showing us how these people came together and affected real, meaningful change.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth