Ava DuVernay's "Selma" & New Mike Brown/Ferguson Documentary Share MLK's Message of A Need For Change

Posted by Billyjam, January 11, 2015 11:49pm | Post a Comment

David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Ava DuVarney directed Selma

There's a memorable scene in the new film Selma where "A Change Is Gonna Come" comes on the car radio in the background - kind of faintly but still enough to hear it and to feel the soul of the song thanks to both the late great Sam Cooke's hauntingly beautiful voice and the powerful message of a promise of hope that the 1963 recorded song delivers. That desired need for change for African Americans is something that is as relevant today as it was five decades ago! Indeed the release of the new Ava DuVarney directed film Selma could not be more timely; and not just that it was scheduled to open coming up on Martin Luther King Jr. Day but considering how the issues of civil rights for African Americans in the sixties, that are the subject of this wonderful film, have become so ever-relevant again in 2015.

Opened to wide release on Friday (Jan 9, 2015) the emotionally charged film is a dramatization of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama voting rights marches of 1965 that were led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played to perfection by British actor David Oyelowo in an Oscar worthy performance) and by members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Furthermore for me personally the timing of catching a screening of Selma this past week was even more perfect since earlier on that very same evening, at The National Black Theatre in Harlem, I had attended a screening of a similarly themed but totally different film; the incendiary new documentary The Mike Brown Rebellion: Resistance in Ferguson. That low-budget - yet nonetheless powerful - DIY documentary, produced by the NYC based Rebel Diaz Arts Collective who had traveled down to Ferguson, Missiouri in the days following the August 2014 police shooting death of the unarmed Mike Brown, succeeded in its goal of presenting an alternate, front-lines perspective view of that put forward by the mainstream news outlets, as well as a making a lasting "tool for education and starting discussions around policing…" In fact immediately following the screening of the film in Harlem, that was presented by the Zulu Nation, those in attendance including one of the filmmakers Rod Starz and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa joined a discussion on the topics raised in the documentary. 

What gave me chills watching these two films back to back (see trailer and clips for each below) is the undeniable parallels between the subjects of the two and the obvious fact, even a full half a century later in this so-called 'post racial America' that in so many ways we have not advanced one iota - but perhaps even regressed especially when it comes to the unsettling uber militarization of US police forces today - something perfectly portrayed in the Ferguson documentary. As noted in recent years by Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who was brutally beaten while marching for the right to vote during “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, back in 1965, that the "GOP is still trying to stop people [read blacks] from voting." Not only that but every day it seems our eyes are shocked with some new viral video showing police misconduct/violence towards US citizens who typically just happen to be black males - highlighted by ones such as Eric Garner in Staten Island. Additionally there are incidents such as the shocking (little publicized) bombing of the NAACP chapter in Colorado Springs this past week - all of which imply that we as a so-called democratic progressive nation are taking a step backwards. Hence the time is ripe for meaningful public debate and action - and why the timing of the release of Selma now is more important than ever.  Martin Luther King Jr. was a pacifist fighting for change against undeniable injustices just as today's protesters are fighting for change against undeniable injustices by militarized police who are not held accountable for their actions. Today's protests are not a call to revolution but a demand for justice in a so-called politically and socially progressive land of the free.

Selma Trailer

Directed by Ava DuVarney Selma, who I interviewed for the Amoeblog back in 2010 about her excellent documentary My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop and whose first major work was her 2008 documentary about the Good Life cafe in LA entitled This is the Life, her newest and and most ambitious film taps into her hip-hop roots and has the power and energy of hip-hop in its revolutionary golden era/Afro-centric late 80's heyday. Equally a film about one key chapter in the 1960's civil rights movement and of the life of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Selma has a very powerful MLK speech scene in the film. In that climatic scene David Oyelowo pitch perfectly captures King as master orator giving his speech at Montgomery uttering the profound words: "We have seen powerful white men rule the world while offering poor white men a vicious lie as placation. And when the poor white man's children wail with the hunger that cannot be satisfied, he feeds them that same vicious lie; a lie whispering to them that regardless of their lot in life that they can at least be triumphant in the knowledge that their whiteness makes them superior to blackness." To me that speech and those accurate observations from half a century ago accurately sum up the current state of affairs in an America where well-meaning but ill-informed, poor whites are spoon-fed fear and hatred by media propaganda outlets epitomized by FOX News - failing to see that human rights effects everyone equally and that theirs are equally being stripped from them.Not surprisingly there are already a large vocal group of politically right wing critics of Selma (most of whom have not even seen the film) who condemn it as liberal propaganda - just as they condemned any of the anti-police protests. To me this merely confirms the sentiment expressed by King in the aforementioned speech. 

Further tying together the two topics of the civil rights movement of half a century ago with current events, such as the non-indictment of the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenaged Michael Brown or the NYPD officer responsible for the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, is the hip-hop artist/actor Common, who both acts in the movie in the role of James Bevel and contributes to the soundtrack. [Note that the soundtrack which has yet to be released also includes Bay Area vocalist Ledisi who plays Mahalia Jackson in the film.] Common joins contemporary soul singer John Legend in the collaborative track "Glory" that plays over the film's closing credits, and in the uplifting gospel based song (complete with backing gospel choir on the chorus) he links such historic landmarks as Rosa Parks with current day struggles such as the Ferguson protests. In his first verse in the soulful song, following Legend singing "One day when the glory comes it will be ours. It will be ours. One day when the war is won we will be sure. We will be sure," Common raps:

"Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon.
Formed against, yes glory is destined
Every day women and men become legends.
Sins that go against our skin become blessings.
The movement is a rhythm to us.
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtapositionin' us.
Justice for all just ain't specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin' us.
Truant livin' livin' in us, resistance is us.
That's why Rosa sat on the bus.
That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up

Powerful stuff and I cannot wait for the soundtrack to be released. Meanwhile check local theater listings for screenings of Selma which will undoubtedly be showing up at the upcoming Oscars including possibly in the soundtrack category for the Common/John Legend song. With future plans for the The Mike Brown Rebellion: Resistance in Ferguson documentary to be released on DVD for now it is available for free screening online in six parts (Part II is below) via the N Don't Stop YouTube channel.

Part II of the six-part
Mike Brown Rebellion: Resistance in Ferguson

Relevant Tags

Selma (2), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (3), Rebel Diaz (2), Mlk Day (3), Martin Luther King Jr. Day (4), Common (17), Rod Starz (1)