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SELMA - HAS ANYONE ELSE SEEN IT YET?


AndyM108
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I finally got around to seeing Selma this afternoon, and after reading about all the controversy surrounding it, I was pleased to discover that the criticism was a bit overblown.

 

First, the acting was terrific, especially David Oyelowo as King, but in general the main characters all played pretty much true to type, though some better than others.

 

One caveat about that:  While some of the actors bore a striking physical resemblance to their real life counterparts---Stephan James (John Lewis), Common (James Bevel), and Nigel Thatch (Malcolm X) in particular---there were two who were so completely unlike the real life characters in appearance that I almost did a spit-take.  I'm talking about the 50-ish and slender Dylan Baker playing a then-shriveled up and stocky 70-year old J. Edgar Hoover, and the ultra-buffed up Trai Byers playing James Forman, who at that stage of his life was rather paunchy and slightly flabby.  Byers got Forman's combative personality pretty close to reality, but it was a bit like casting Arnold Schwarzenegger to play Jeb Bush.  It just didn't look right.

 

As to the criticism that LBJ was unfairly portrayed:  There's some truth to that charge, but as Lous Menand mentions in a long New Yorker article about the voting rights act, it wasn't nearly as straight a line as Johnson's defenders try to portray it.  And LBJ at the end of the movie was given full credit for his work after the second march was underway.  There's a classic scene with Johnson and George Wallace going at it in the White House, and Johnson gives it to George with both barrels.  LBJ was far and away our greatest civil rights president, but in truth he was much more responding to events than leading them, much like JFK.

 

One disappointment (to me, anyway) was the relative emphasis on King.  Not that he wasn't the key figure in the immediate period leading up to the march, but I wish that the film had gone into much more depth portraying the table setting efforts of the local Selma movement, which was staging demonstrations and attempting to register voters for at least a year and a half prior to the 1965 march.

 

But I'll close by mentioning two especially powerful scenes, without dwelling on the details.  The first was the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, just 18 days after the March on Washington. I remember that horrific event every bit as vividly as I remember the Kennedy and King assassinations, but even those memories didn't prepare me for the sheer power of this scene.

 

The second was the scene in the Dallas County courthouse, where the local registrar put Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) through an impossible series of questions before denying her the right to register.  That scene in particular rang truer than almost any other one in the entire movie.  You almost have to have been there to know just how true it was.

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   I wish!  I've been trying to get to see it for the past couple of weeks, but work and other things have gotten in the way.  I'm going to ask my friend if she wants to see it with me, high ticket prices and all.  But I've heard nothing but good/great things from those who have seen it, and as for the naysayers; all I can say is "phooey!"  It's not very mature, I know, but I feel that I'm entitled to a moment or two.  I figured that the scenes with Annie Lee Cooper would be powerful to watch.  She lived to be 100, by the way.

    I think that the film breaks a lot of conventions that viewers have gotten accustomed to concerning this subject matter.  For example, in many films with African-American protagonists, the perspective of the film is often told from a white voice.  Amistad, Cry Freedom, Glory, A Time To Kill, not to mention the countless Classic Hollywood films that cast white actors in Black roles are examples of this, and people have protested against the practice for years.  Here, we have a Black female director telling a story about the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the people who were there on the ground, and that white voice or identifier, if you will, is missing.  This is a different experience for some people, and unfortunately, I'm convinced that this, in part, contributes to the lukewarm reception amongst the aforementioned naysayers, as well as the reaction against LBJ's portrayal.  

   Here are some interesting articles from slate.com and vox.com respectively about the criticisms and the film's perspective, which were fascinating.  It also gets into the events surrounding this Oscar season, as well.

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/01/selma_and_lbj_why_critics_are_wrong_about_how_the_film_portrays_president.html

 

http://www.vox.com/2015/1/15/7551723/selma-oscars-snub

 

Thanks for sharing about the film, Andy!

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   I wish!  I've been trying to get to see it for the past couple of weeks, but work and other things have gotten in the way.  I'm going to ask my friend if she wants to see it with me, high ticket prices and all.  But I've heard nothing but good/great things from those who have seen it, and as for the naysayers; all I can say is "phooey!"  It's not very mature, I know, but I feel that I'm entitled to a moment or two.  I figured that the scenes with Annie Lee Cooper would be powerful to watch.  She lived to be 100, by the way.

    I think that the film breaks a lot of conventions that viewers have gotten accustomed to concerning this subject matter.  For example, in many films with African-American protagonists, the perspective of the film is often told from a white voice.  Amistad, Cry Freedom, Glory, A Time To Kill, not to mention the countless Classic Hollywood films that cast white actors in Black roles are examples of this, and people have protested against the practice for years.  Here, we have a Black female director telling a story about the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the people who were there on the ground, and that white voice or identifier, if you will, is missing.  This is a different experience for some people, and unfortunately, I'm convinced that this, in part, contributes to the lukewarm reception amongst the aforementioned naysayers, as well as the reaction against LBJ's portrayal.  

   Here are some interesting articles from slate.com and vox.com respectively about the criticisms and the film's perspective, which were fascinating.  It also gets into the events surrounding this Oscar season, as well.

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/01/selma_and_lbj_why_critics_are_wrong_about_how_the_film_portrays_president.html

 

http://www.vox.com/2015/1/15/7551723/selma-oscars-snub

 

Thanks for sharing about the film, Andy!

 

And thanks for providing those links, which put many of the criticisms of Selma in much-needed perspective. I note that the Slate author Jamelle Bouie makes the same point I did about the lack of depiction of the local movement people, and the ways that they'd been setting the stage for King and SCLC for the two years prior to Bloody Sunday.  This is how Bouie put it:

 

"If Selma could have been better, it wasn’t because DuVernay didn’t do justice to Lyndon Johnson, but because there was so much to show about the ordinary people of Selma, and we—as viewers—don’t see it."

 

But in spite of this and other minor flaws, Selma is a movie that does less injustice to history than almost any "historical" film I've ever seen.  I can only hope that one day TCM will show movies like Selma in addition to the 10,000th screening of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

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My wife and I have decided not to see it because of the manner in which they treated Lyndon Johnson.

We realize that movies and TV are profit first, entertainment second and facts a distant third, but just can't see distorting history this much.  BTW, there have been several articles and commentaries re: this particular aspect of the movie.

Having lived my life in the South, I am very much aware that without LBJ there never would have been a Civil Rights Act or a Voting Rights Act.   He led the nation rather than follow events.  However, he was also smart enough and politically savy enough to know what to do and when.

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Since my wife's physical difficulties( and now mine) make it hard to attend theater presentations, i'll probably wait for it to come to my cable's ON DEMAND menu, since my "download happy" brother-in-law is NOT the kind of guy to WANT to download THIS one( IF ya know what I mean).

 

With movies like this, there are some who hate them simply due to the subject matter, and some who'll claim it's "importance" simply due to the same thing, so I'd like to wait and make up my OWN mind, and see for myself whether or not LBJ got treated badly or not.

 

 

Sepiatone

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My wife and I have decided not to see it because of the manner in which they treated Lyndon Johnson.

We realize that movies and TV are profit first, entertainment second and facts a distant third, but just can't see distorting history this much.

That's the way I felt about 12 Years a Slave, Cid. Have little use for LBJ and have a great day.

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My wife and I have decided not to see it because of the manner in which they treated Lyndon Johnson.

We realize that movies and TV are profit first, entertainment second and facts a distant third, but just can't see distorting history this much.  BTW, there have been several articles and commentaries re: this particular aspect of the movie.

Having lived my life in the South, I am very much aware that without LBJ there never would have been a Civil Rights Act or a Voting Rights Act.   He led the nation rather than follow events.  However, he was also smart enough and politically savy enough to know what to do and when.

 

Having been active in SNCC and CORE, having lived in the South for the better part of the 1960's, having voted for LBJ and having been in Montgomery for the conclusion of the march, I'm fully aware of the importance of Lyndon Johnson.  On civil rights issues he was easily our best president.  When the chips were down, he walked the walk.

 

But as other commentators have noted, LBJ was like all presidents in wanting to have full control over events, and it took him awhile to realize that mass movements aren't always susceptible to that sort of outside control.  The voting rights drive in Selma had been going on for two years prior to 1965, with virtually no support from the federal government, and it was wholly understandable that the movement didn't want to cede its decision making to any president, no matter how sympathetic.

 

And while the movie doesn't follow the literal timeline of the sometimes contentious relationship between Johnson and Dr. King, we certainly see with great emphasis that when LBJ became aware of the urgency of going forward immediately, as opposed to trying to superimpose his preferred timeline, he was in it all the way.  The final scene with George Wallace and the scene where he introduces the voting rights bill before Congress leave no doubt about this.  You should really see the movie for yourself before dismissing it on the basis of what you've read from a few critics.  Even if some of their criticisms are worthy of consideration, you shouldn't miss the forest for the trees.  For every discordant scene, there were ten others that captured the time and place and people with perfect pitch.  No other "civil rights" movie comes even close in this respect.

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Ah yes, the horns of a dilema as one of my college profs used to say.  If you go to the movie, you have paid money to those that made it and also become part of the statistics of how many people saw it.  Two viewers may not matter, but then every vote counts.

Just as with many other movies, TV shows, books, etc., we will determine our actions based on what reviewers and others have said.

Of course, the good thing is that the movie was made and its subject matter brought to the forefront at a time when many in the US, and especially the South, have forgotten how it really was - and could be again.

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And thanks for providing those links, which put many of the criticisms of Selma in much-needed perspective. I note that the Slate author Jamelle Bouie makes the same point I did about the lack of depiction of the local movement people, and the ways that they'd been setting the stage for King and SCLC for the two years prior to Bloody Sunday. This is how Bouie put it:

 

"If Selma could have been better, it wasn’t because DuVernay didn’t do justice to Lyndon Johnson, but because there was so much to show about the ordinary people of Selma, and we—as viewers—don’t see it."

 

But in spite of this and other minor flaws, Selma is a movie that does less injustice to history than almost any "historical" film I've ever seen. I can only hope that one day TCM will show movies like Selma in addition to the 10,000th screening of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

That's an excellent point about switching up the lineup of films; I ce noticed that TCM tends to show the same roster of films dealing with racial issues and social justice around this time of year. There are so many other films, both modern-ish (but still classic) and traditionally classic that are underrated, and would provide interesting viewing for those looking for different perspectives. Ivan Dixon's "Nothing But a Man" comes to mind; hands up to anyone who's actually seen it. They are showing "One Potato, Two Potato", though, which I haven't seen in two years.

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I'm not going to keep going back and forth about the issue, because everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I will say this. I do not believe that the point of the film was to play fast and loose with history, or to besmirch LBJ's legacy and impact. However, I do think that the intense focus on this aspect of the film can obscure its larger message about this period in our history, as well as who this film is supposed to be about. Here's a link to another article from MSNBC about LBJ's complex role during this time:

 

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/lyndon-johnson-civil-rights-racism

 

Happy reading, all!

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just this observation...

 

the two evil white antagonists in the film, LBJ and George Wallace, are played by brit actors Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth. why is that?

 

is it because foreign actors will feel more comfortable being farther removed from the sheer evilness of Johnson and Wallace whereas american actors would have felt more uncomfortable playing them? :)

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just this observation...

 

the two evil white antagonists in the film, LBJ and George Wallace, are played by brit actors Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth. why is that?

 

is it because foreign actors will feel more comfortable being farther removed from the sheer evilness of Johnson and Wallace whereas american actors would have felt more uncomfortable playing them? :)

 

It's probably because the Brits are known for having the best-trained actors in the world. Or have you not noticed that the actors who play Dr. King and his wife are British, too?

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But I'll close by mentioning two especially powerful scenes, without dwelling on the details.  The first was the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, just 18 days after the March on Washington. I remember that horrific event every bit as vividly as I remember the Kennedy and King assassinations, but even those memories didn't prepare me for the sheer power of this scene.

 

I was sent to Birmingham the next day to film it for a TV station. Those were dangerous and frightening days in the South. I filmed MLK there too.

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Having been active in SNCC and CORE, having lived in the South for the better part of the 1960's, having voted for LBJ and having been in Montgomery for the conclusion of the march, I'm fully aware of the importance of Lyndon Johnson.  On civil rights issues he was easily our best president.  When the chips were down, he walked the walk.

 

 

I filmed some SNCC and CORE workers back in those days, in Mississippi and Louisiana. I wonder if I filmed you or met you? What towns were you in?

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Of course, the good thing is that the movie was made and its subject matter brought to the forefront at a time when many in the US, and especially the South, have forgotten how it really was - and could be again.

 

Hi Cid,

 

I have not forgotten. Were you ever bussed half way across town to accommodate a Federal Govt. dictate but not allowed to go to your neighborhood school that was walking distance from where you lived?

 

Have a great evening.

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I filmed some SNCC and CORE workers back in those days, in Mississippi and Louisiana. I wonder if I filmed you or met you? What towns were you in?

 

Probably not, since the only time I was in Mississippi was for the Waveland Conference in November of 1964, and the only time I was in Louisiana was at the New Orleans airport on the way to the same conference.  Rode in a car with Jim Forman on that last leg of the trip, and he was one fascinating character.  The entire hour's trip more or less consisted of a seminar he conducted on the eternal SNCC question of "What is the relationship of the organizer to the organized?"   My SNCC year was in Cambridge, MD, where for a while I was living in the house of Gloria Richardson, and my work with CORE was when I was at Duke, in demonstrations and organizing in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Williamston, North Carolina.

 

On the way back to the airport after the conference was over, we were pulled over on U.S. 90 by the county sheriff, who'd been trailing us for miles with his headlights off.  Said our driver was doing 68.5 in a 45 zone, whereas in fact we were doing 43.  If I hadn't had $20 in cash to pay the fine on the spot, I shudder to think what might have happened, since they didn't cotton to pretty much the entire movement, especially integrated groups (I was the only white in the car), and the memories of Philadelphia at that point were only a few months old.  In fact while the sheriff was writing the ticket, I was hiding on the floor behind the front seat (it was night), and slipped the driver the $20 while the sheriff went to his car for a minute.  As you know from your own experience, Mississippi wasn't playing around.

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That's an excellent point about switching up the lineup of films; I ce noticed that TCM tends to show the same roster of films dealing with racial issues and social justice around this time of year. There are so many other films, both modern-ish (but still classic) and traditionally classic that are underrated, and would provide interesting viewing for those looking for different perspectives. Ivan Dixon's "Nothing But a Man" comes to mind; hands up to anyone who's actually seen it. They are showing "One Potato, Two Potato", though, which I haven't seen in two years.

 

(Raises hand)

 

Nothing But a Man is a movie I've been hoping TCM would get for many years now.  An absolute gem of a film that I first saw when it came out in 1964.  Both Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln were terrific, as was the actor (can't place his name) who played Dixon's father in a cameo role. I've seen most of the other small studio black-oriented movies from that time period, including One Potato, Two Potato, Shadows, Anna Lucasta, etc, and IMO Nothing But a Man is the best of the lot, good as those others also are.  It got universal critical acclaim at the time of its release, but since it didn't feature any big box office draws and had virtually no white actors, it pretty much slipped under the radar after its initial screenings.

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Hi Cid,

 

I have not forgotten. Were you ever bussed half way across town to accommodate a Federal Govt. dictate but not allowed to go to your neighborhood school that was walking distance from where you lived?

 

Have a great evening.

 

Substitute "State Govt. dictate" for "Federal Govt. dictate", and how many millions of black children do you think had that same experience prior to the late 1960's?  If those state and local governments---and the white voters who kept them in power---hadn't been so hell bent on maintaining American apartheid by hook, crook, and subterfuge, the federal government wouldn't have needed to play as big a role as it did. 

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NipkowDisc, on 17 Jan 2015 - 4:52 PM, said:snapback.png

just this observation...

 

the two evil white antagonists in the film, LBJ and George Wallace, are played by brit actors Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth. why is that?

 

is it because foreign actors will feel more comfortable being farther removed from the sheer evilness of Johnson and Wallace whereas american actors would have felt more uncomfortable playing them? :)

 

 

It's probably because the Brits are known for having the best-trained actors in the world. Or have you not noticed that the actors who play Dr. King and his wife are British, too?

 

Have only seen a short clip of Wilkinson playing ("evil"?...not really ND) LBJ in this film, but just from what I saw of him, I'm not so sure the so-called "better trained" Brit actor quite captures the President.

 

And all I could think of while watching Wilkerson in that clip was what a shame Bryan Cranston wasn't in the role instead, because as you probably know, the man recently has been receiving rave reviews by playing LBJ on Broadway, and after seeing HIM in a clip from that play, I can understand why.

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(Raises hand)

 

Nothing But a Man is a movie I've been hoping TCM would get for many years now.  An absolute gem of a film that I first saw when it came out in 1964.  Both Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln were terrific, as was the actor (can't place his name) who played Dixon's father in a cameo role. I've seen most of the other small studio black-oriented movies from that time period, including One Potato, Two Potato, Shadows, Anna Lucasta, etc, and IMO Nothing But a Man is the best of the lot, good as those others also are.  It got universal critical acclaim at the time of its release, but since it didn't feature any big box office draws and had virtually no white actors, it pretty much slipped under the radar after its initial screenings.

Julius Harris is the actor's name, the one who played his father. Ivan Dixon is one of the best unheralded Black actors that many people havent heard of; he was so much more than Kinchloe. The way that he balances sensitivity with this growing, necessary need to assert himself as a man is something to see. I personally loved its display of fatherhood and responsibility under less than stellar situations.

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Probably not, since the only time I was in Mississippi was for the Waveland Conference in November of 1964, and the only time I was in Louisiana was at the New Orleans airport on the way to the same conference.  Rode in a car with Jim Forman on that last leg of the trip, and he was one fascinating character.  The entire hour's trip more or less consisted of a seminar he conducted on the eternal SNCC question of "What is the relationship of the organizer to the organized?"   My SNCC year was in Cambridge, MD, where for a while I was living in the house of Gloria Richardson, and my work with CORE was when I was at Duke, in demonstrations and organizing in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Williamston, North Carolina.

 

On the way back to the airport after the conference was over, we were pulled over on U.S. 90 by the county sheriff, who'd been trailing us for miles with his headlights off.  Said our driver was doing 68.5 in a 45 zone, whereas in fact we were doing 43.  If I hadn't had $20 in cash to pay the fine on the spot, I shudder to think what might have happened, since they didn't cotton to pretty much the entire movement, especially integrated groups (I was the only white in the car), and the memories of Philadelphia at that point were only a few months old.  In fact while the sheriff was writing the ticket, I was hiding on the floor behind the front seat (it was night), and slipped the driver the $20 while the sheriff went to his car for a minute.  As you know from your own experience, Mississippi wasn't playing around.

Wow. This is amazing. It's so scary sometimes to think how things could have been different if it weren't for a few slight changes. You're a witness to history. Much respect.

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