The terribleness of tragedy is that it never announces itself. Instead, it lies in wait and strikes the happiest of moments. It is then that evil is seen for what it is. The words necessary to explain or to understand don’t exist. They vanish in a second, the instant the unthinkable happens.
Selma, the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, hits the epicenter of our nation’s ugliness. This glimpse into the life of a man we’ve all studied as children at our school desks reminds us that while we’ve made great strides, it wasn’t long ago that hatred manifested itself so publicly.
Prepare to be shocked.
Prepare to be enraged.
Prepare to be ready to rethink what you thought you knew about the voting rights of all American citizens. Hopefully the movie inspires us to look at both sides of political motivations in the South during a time when racially motivated murders and denials of voting rights ran rampant.
The movie picks up in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life after his famous speech. Segregation is now illegal, although still practiced and unenforced. The issue of the day is the denial of rights for African Americans (particularly in the South) to exercise their right to vote. Not only are they denied at the courthouse after being humiliated, but they are required to have a registered voter vouch for them first and then pay a poll tax for every year they haven’t voted.
Selma shows the hardships, red tape, behind-the-scenes politicking, wire-tapping, and full-out invasion of privacy the government took to control the uprising of African Americans as they fought for their right to vote. There is no doubt of the unconstitutionality of these happenings, and the need to march and demonstrate was the only weapon they had when the highest ranking government officials brought no help and no relief.
See the trailer below:
The movie culminates in the march from Selma to Montgomery, where peace met violence in a horrific moment of our history. When the gas masks went on, I felt shame. When the police on horseback whipped and clubbed those in retreat, I felt heartbreak and the tears flowed. When the clergy responded to the call from Mr. King to come out for a second march, I felt pride.
The cast did an amazing job. David Oyelowo portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. as a man juggling morality with the greatest weapon he knew to use—peace. Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo, remained the faithful wife as she stayed strong on the home front. It was interesting to watch the home life struggle that we forget about when someone becomes the face of a movement.
Stars Oprah Winfrey (Annie Lee Cooper), Tom Wilkinson (President Johnson), and Tim Roth (Governor George Wallace) gave great performances—each fully depicting the depths of their individual characters.
While Selma serves as a terrible reminder of humanity at one of its lowest points, may we remember that we are all created equal. In the words of Martin Luther King in “Loving Your Enemies,” “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals … There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Selma doesn’t shy away from the violent nature of this time in America’s history, but while they let the horror be known, the film shields us from the graphic nature of the violence. Seeing the sign on the hotel “Serving Whites Only since 1855” was hard to look at, and the mistreatment and violence towards African Americans with no consequence was hard to swallow. Knowing it’s a replay of facts makes it worse.
The first time the “terrible” words come out are during the demonstration in front of Selma’s courthouse. The sheriff curses with the “f” word, as well as prefacing the “d” word with God’s name. It is repeated closer to the end of the film. The “n” word is used at various times. A man flicks off the camera near the end.
(Spoiler alert) A family participates in a peaceful march. Once the police raise their walking sticks and start beating the marches, they escape into the safety of a restaurant. The police follow them, beat the 82-year-old man, and end up murdering the grandson.
Threatening voicemails are left on the King’s phone against their children and themselves. One time, the sounds of a woman moaning are supposed to implicate Mr. King as being unfaithful to his wife. There is an admission of infidelity.
While in jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. is reminded of Matthew 6:25-26, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
It was an intriguing verse to be spoken at such a time…we use this to comfort ourselves when we’ve lost a job, there’s too much month at the end of the money, or terrible things are happening to our friends and family. Sometimes we feel like there is no hope.
Yet when we feel worry, we can take refuge that God sees us and loves us more than the birds of the air. Yet in this film, it is said after an illegal arrest to a man receiving death threats over wanting to restore his constitutional right for himself and the rest of those being oppressed. The weight of the murders and beatings weighed heavily on him, and he was reminded not to worry because God cares about His people.
How do we justify what we’re allowed to worry about? If God cares for His people, why does He allow violence against them? What are some ways we can show that we are trusting God in our circumstances?
For more on the history of Selma, check out our article March from Selma Changed History and Continues Today.
Find more about the author at BethanyJett.com.