<Todd>’s review published on Letterboxd:
"That requires drama" - MLK Jr.
This is a great film that accomplishes a number of impressive feats.
(1) How do you avoid a film about the civil rights movement becoming a misery porn?
The violence is stylized in a way that places a value on grief above brutality. In addition, the film only takes a few violent acts and really makes them count, as opposed to numbing the audience with constant violence and racism. Also, the film show whites for the ambivalent fucks they were at the time which really makes the point of the violence more clear.
(2) How do you provide a new take on the civil rights era, one of the most known historical eras in American history?
Highlighting King's flaws and pointing out that he was not quite as perfect as he appears to be helps humanize the King story making it more identifiable and in many ways more impressive. It's somehow more inspiring to see King's accomplishments being aided by so many others and coming from a man who was great, but not a saint.
You also do it by showing in-fighting between SNCC and SCLC, along with King's tension with Malcolm X, to demonstrate that the "black community" was not one monolithic voice but a community united in goal but divided in approach. The tensions with lbj are highlighted, and perhaps enhanced slightly which helps contextualize the point of protest.
(3) How do you avoid all of the tragic pitfalls that biographical pictures fall prey to over and over again?
Well, Selma didn't figure this one out completely in my opinion but first you do it by focusing on a specific time and space, as opposed to trying to cover the entirety of a lifetime over one movie. In that regard, Selma is already well ahead of the curve. You also try to provide extra context for why the story is important. I like when a biopic highlights why I should care and I think the last ten minutes through score, editing, and specific decisions about how to end the film and what information to present nailed the ending. Finally, you just make a damn good movie and this is a damn good movie. David got snubbed and Ava got snubbed.
(4) How do you avoid lying too much?
One of my biggest issues with biopics is that lying in them really drives me crazy. It's a pet peeve of mine that impacts my views. I can say that LBJ's animus is exaggerated a little and some conversations are created for dramatic effect or to represent a time, but this film gives a B+ for accuracy which is pretty good.
A great film and highly recommended.