This is the first of a two part series. Here is part two.

Last evening my husband, Brad and I challenged the frigid temperatures to go out and see the new film Selma which recently opened in theaters across the US.  We often head up to a theater up route 28 that is part of a shopping Mall, and as usual the mall was full of teenage kids from the various semi-rural neighborhoods the mall serves. I can’t tell you that I was both unsurprised but deeply sad, as we entered a theater with about a dozen people there to see what is arguably one of the most important films of the year on the opening weekend. Will the parts of America who need to see this film open their eyes to this important history lesson?  No matter how full or empty the theater, I watched an amazing film that filled me with emotions questions, and ideas, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Not everyone has had praise for the film as this article about the controversy mentions:

Selma is unapologetic in depicting the movement as one that was primarily led by black women and men. Black women stand out on this score with subtle and nuanced depictions of Coretta Scott King, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash, and Amelia Boynton definitively illustrating black women’s fierce activist commitment and leadership in civil rights struggles. Intimate scenes between activists in Kings Southern Christian Leadership and the young militants of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”) showcase the generational tensions, bruised egos and intellectual firepower that made the movement successful. Kings trusted lieutenants Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams and James Orange are all given their due, as are John Lewis – now Congressman Lewis — and Jim Forman of SNCC. Cameo appearances by C.T. Vivian, one of the movements most courageous and unsung heroes, and Malcolm X give a fuller picture of the history than we’ve ever seen on film.

As a gay man and activist, the film prompts me to think deeper about the current battle for full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer persons, as well as it prompts me to think about today’s civil rights landscape within a larger historical picture.

I grew up in an all white, upper middle class neighborhood and the only black people I knew, were my family’s house keeper, Maebell, and her family. Since I played with Maebell’s son who was my age, my family saw itself as very open minded and liberal, although now, looking back I don’t see it that way at all. They were individuals who believed things should be different, but possibly not brave enough to take bigger steps to actually make it so. Watching the film, I thought about that– about how trying to fit it all into simple boxes of heroes and bigots misses the point of the way things really unfold. I was eight years old in 1965.

I love the way Joseph ends his article:

Selma reminds us to honor not just the heroic figure making speeches, but the collective will of so many who made progress possible. Ultimately, the beating heart of this film rests not with its portrait of LBJ, or even King, not with what group has been left out or ignored, but with the larger truth that the civil rights movement’s heroic period reflected our collective strengths and weaknesses as a nation, something Americans are loathe to recognize let alone acknowledge. Selma’s greatest gift is that, even when it reimagines some moments of history, it remains unflinching in its examination of America’s racial soul.

Ferguson. Eric Gardner. Trayvon Martin. Leon Ford. Jordon Miles. Jonny Gammage. These names keep swirling around in my mind.

As we drove home, Brad mentions to me how much one of King’s early speeches in the film reminded him of the similarities between the current movement for equal rights for the LGBTQ community and the  movement then, for full civil rights for African-americans.  My feelings were so much more scattered than that. On the one hand, I kept thinking, (and still am) about how much more work there is really to be done to end racial inequality. I wouldn’t go so far as to say things are little better than they once were, but I would say things are far from where they ought to be.

The real problem many critics have with this film is that it’s too black and too strong. Our popular reimagining of the civil rights movement is that it’s something we all did together and the battle is over; that’s just not true.

While I totally get Joseph’s point and agree with him, there were two white figures in the film who were so meaningful to me as a viewer. The first was the white minister from Boston, James Reeb. We watch him leave the North, with such resolve to do the right thing; we watch him in the march; and we watch him talk, explaining a theology about the day, and then we watch him beaten (he died two hours later). Real white bigots beat him, but it isn’t that a few wrong headed bigots hate Blacks that is the problem, rather that the status quo will do anything in a moment of desperation to maintain things as they are, and violence, fear, intimidation, and bullying is the weapon of choice used against anyone, regardless of skin color, who challenges the status quo. But “everyone” did not share the pain and suffering equally. “This is what its like to be a nigger in Selma”– I think that is what they say to him as they beat him to death. The second takes only a split second of the film, and you could easily miss it. While King speaks triumphantly in Montgomery at the end of the march, text appears next to the image of a white woman, Viola Liuzzo. Much of the poignancy of Viola’s story is what happens five hours after the march. In no way does this film forget or overlook the involvement of others in this struggle.

As a gay man and an activist, I can start to look at the film and talk bout what I learn from it and how it applies to the movement I am so passionate about today. But there will be time for that. The first thing I’m left with is sitting with the thought– if I care so much about real equality, am I doing enough for the equality of all, or am I too busy caring about one little part of the bigger struggle? There’s real value with just sitting with that question and pondering it for a while.

via Selma Backlash Misses The Point : Code Switch : NPR.

Comments are closed.