All human beings may be created equal. Not all people experience equality. Selma reminds us that our not too distant past is littered with dubious illustrations of this common reality.
Tuesday evening Patty and I took in a pre-screening of writer Paul Webb’s, Selma. Generally I would have described dinner and a movie as an enjoyable evening. The company, Patty, certainly made the evening worthwhile. But, the movie provided more pain than joy.
Where to begin? Since the film releases locally on Friday, I do not want to spoil what should be included in your evening plans. That’s right, if you did not have plans you should make them. If your plans do not include taking in the fantastic performance by David Oyelowo, change them.
The lighting draws out and intensifies the moments where King Jr. (Oyelowo) contemplates the gravity of a decision, the news of tragedy, or faces his own failures.
Do not get up from your seat to leave when the credits begin to roll. John Legend and Common‘s collaboration, Glory, is worth sitting and contemplating what you just witnessed. Some might think it a rap song, believe it is hip-hop. But, Common suggests we shouldn’t make that mistake. Maybe he views it a protest anthem.
One hip-hop staple you won’t hear on the track: percussion. Common wants it to be seen in a grander protest-tune tradition. “This is not a rap song,” Common maintains. “It’s a beautiful song like the way when you heard Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder singing songs or John Lennon doing ‘Imagine.’ I wanted people to really hear what was being said. We don’t have a drumbeat to it. It’s just vocal, piano and an orchestra arrangement. We wanted it to have an intimacy, but for it to be majestic, because it’s for Dr. King.”
Consider these words,
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
There are a few scenes from Schindler’s List extremely difficult to endure. We on this side of the pond get through a viewing of such atrocities thinking, “That is not us.” But, just twenty years after the end of WW2 we witness similar evocation when watching the dramatic history unfold on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the bridge named after a leader of the Klan. Walking for what is rightfully theirs across a bridge that is a constant reminder of racial hatred. It is hard to watch. Then it is hard to bear.
We took in the film next to a couple near the front of a packed auditorium at the Harkins Theater. When this and other scenes difficult to endure were reenacted in the film you could hear the visceral groans and an occasional, “They wouldn’t do that today!” Well, at least we would like to think.
Pain increases when I know the conversations had between then President Johnson and George Wallace and between Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover continue today. They are only gone from the front pages but are taken up in places across our Country as if they should be the norm.
Both pain and inspiration, maybe even in equal portions, rise with each blow administered to James Reeb, the minister from Boston killed going to Selma to walk with the protestors. How often have we, have I, neglected to act in the face of what loss may come? Risk is always a part of standing for justice and with those suffering injustice.
The list could go on. After you see the film, come back and note your reaction, the things that bring you pain.
Individuals Make Up Systems
Selma is sure to trigger a great deal of introspection. One must quickly move past the impulse to rage against the adversaries of justice. Pointing out the obvious does not move a person or system in the direction of transformation. What is required is identifying the ways we as individuals create and participate in systems, structures, and institutions that may or may not foster justice for all.
One scene drives home this reality. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that it did not mark progress if black children had no schools in which they learned to read even if legislation granted them a seat at the diner. What good is the seat at the diner if you can’t order a burger?
Get to the theater!