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Movie Review

Theme And Character Are One In 'Selma'


Since about the only negative criticism of the movie Selma involves its historical accuracy, let's start with that.

It is accused of misrepresenting President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his relations to Martin Luther King's famous and influential marches from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C., in the early '60s, and of attributing to Johnson the origin of J. Edgar Hoover's idea of audiotaping King's sex life and sending the tapes to King's wife, when it was actually Robert Kennedy who had come up with the idea years earlier.

It appears that Johnson was actually a much more enthusiastic supporter of King and the civil rights movement than Selma suggests. But it's true that LBJ would have preferred to emphasize his War on Poverty and let civil rights wait a while, and the aim of the movie is to stress the lesser-known followers of King and King himself, who is presented as a surprisingly unheroic character who is so afraid of what he is doing that at one point he seems actually to lose his nerve and back out.

Well, you can hardly blame him, considering the brutality of the authorities his marchers fall victim to, and in any case, in the end he doesn't back out, which looks all the more courageous because he almost did. Even his oratory is downplayed in favor of his being a supposedly ordinary man raised to heroic heights by the needs of the time. His private life is subordinated to the point that the notorious sex tapes get only a singe scene, and there is no melodrama in it.

The theme and character are one in Selma, and the movie is better and more important as a result. There's a lot more I could say about it, and it's all positive.