"Selma" stirs discussion in thought-provoking presentation of human rights

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

In a nation that prides itself on the evolution of its civil, social and economic principles, watching the newly released “Selma” simultaneously provides one with a thought-provoking history lesson and sketches a map for future progress. Based on the historical events taking place in the early stages of the Civil Rights movement, the film depicts how far we have come today and, at the same time, how much we still have left to accomplish to achieve equality for all.

The title of the film seems to be a gesture toward the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and throughout the rest of the country, otherwise it could have been named “MLK” or something similar. Locales become infamous for what goes on there. The people of Selma, Ala., were subjected to brutality almost daily. I’m sure that you have heard about the occurrences in Ferguson last year. It may be a different time, but it feels like the same thing. And with that feeling comes a steady realization that maybe the United States has not progressed as far as we think. Have we grown stagnant on the issue of equality?

“Selma” has gained media attention in the past weeks, both for its deficient Oscar nominations and its depiction of a supposed champion of civil rights, President Johnson.

Although speculation circulated that director Ava DuVernay may become the third woman ever nominated for Best Director, and the only African American woman, when the nomination didn’t come, DuVernay was not upset. She shared her feelings, and frankly radiated positivity, in an interview with Bob Simone on “60 Minutes” Sunday. “I never thought it would happen anyway. So when the nomination didn’t come, it didn’t do damage to me,” DuVernay said.

Despite recent criticisms for the movie’s portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson, DuVernay said that she disagrees with the naysayers and stands by her decision to shed light on his character. “History is to be interpreted through the lens of the people who are reading it and experiencing it on the page or at the time,” DuVernay said. “And this is my interpretation.”

In DuVernay’s adaptation of history with “Selma,” events ensue in an ordered succession that causes one to examine in detail the unfair treatment that African Americans faced. An opening scene shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Such a proud moment in the African American community is juxtaposed with one of the least expected turn of events—the unfathomable bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Four young girls lost their lives, and like so many other racially motivated crimes of those turbulent years, it was believed to be carried out by a white supremacist group.

About 15 minutes into the film, the major topic of African American suffrage is illustrated and explained in great detail. A woman, Oprah Winfrey, tries countless times to gain her right to vote. She gathers all the necessary documents and studies answers to ridiculous questions, to no avail.

With the ability to vote not carried out by law in the South, African Americans could not serve on a jury, so a “fair trial” was far from commonplace in the days of the 1960s. Each little injustice had rippling effects on the community as a whole, and DuVernay does an outstanding job of capturing it on the screen.

The movie will surely make you cry. I did more than once. But it should also make you think of our human responsibility to be kind to one another. Because we only have one world, and everyone has a birth right to share it with one another.