(M) Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo
by Ben McEachen
Be inspired. So many people, events, t-shirts, bumper stickers, or emails from charities, fill our lives with the worthy call: ‘Be Inspired!’ But when was the last time you were? Not just politely or momentarily. Inspired, in a deep way. A life-changing way.
‘Based on the inspiring true story’ is a common claim of movies. Although 2015 has barely begun, several ‘Be Inspired!’ biopics already have surfaced. Unbroken and Wild profess to portray real people doing stuff that, surely, will cause viewers to punch the air and be amply inspired. Released this month, Selma is another ‘based on the inspiring true story’ offering.
Yet, more than Unbroken or Wild, the fictionalised history presented by Selma should shake off any inspiration fatigue. Go ahead. Try to not be inspired by re-enactments of what was done by Martin Luther King Jr (played by David Oyelowo) and his fellow Civil Rights activists. Focused upon key events in 1965, Selma depicts personal and public struggles for racial equality in the USA. This intense period powerfully represents an entire movement, and the man who led it.
Unlike many movies about real-life Christians, Selma doesn’t evict, or dumb down, the convictions of its central figure. Service to the kingdom of God is allowed to remain as the reason for what King stands for. Time and again, God receives the glory. Not King, the world-renowned preacher turned Nobel-Prize-winning campaigner. Part of the inspiring force of Selma only can be felt by those who share King’s faith. Rare it is for a movie to so spur on Christian believers. But this stirring biopic should have done just that, by the time it concludes with these triumphant words: ‘Glory, hallelujah. His truth is marching on.’ Be inspired.
Writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay make a valiant attempt to represent King as a real person, not merely an historical cut-out. The toll upon his marriage receives attention, with several scenes indicating the strain and sacrifice endured by King’s wife, Coretta (played by Carmen Ejogo). However, allegations of King being a serial adulterer are only subtly addressed in Selma. This hint of sexual immorality instantly taints appreciation for how King spontaneously prays in the face of armed opposition, or soothes a grieving father by reminding him of God’s compassion.
Knowing King was not a saint, though, helps to keep being inspired by Selma. For the right reasons. As much as this excellent movie does centre on King and his abundant achievements, the true source of praise remains in the correct spot. During moments of doubt and worry, as King wallows in a jail cell, a fellow activist reminds him of what Jesus taught. Recorded in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus explained why worry is unnecessary. Because God provides what is required, for those who seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness.
Yes, King – and the rest of us – it’s about who God is and what God does. Not the humans lovingly called to participate in his purpose and plans.
Apart from Jesus, no-one ever has perfectly sought out God. Including King. But Selma clearly shows how flawed, yet dedicated, servants of God can do inspiring things. Especially when they are cherishing, honouring and celebrating the one they serve.