Selma, the movie, the recently released film inspired by the events of the Civil Rights Movement as led by Martin Luther King Jr., not only offers a chance to reflect back on the history of segregation in the U.S., but also is an opportunity to address the continuing racial inequality our nation struggles with.
However, the film has come under scrutiny, even before its release, as to how accurately it portrays the historical events it is based upon.
Selma not a documentary
While Selma the movie is based on real life events, the film is not a documentary, nor does it claim to be. That, however, has not stopped people from criticizing the movie for how it represents the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the role of Martin Luther King Jr. and others in that time period. The director of the LBJ Library and Museum, as well as a former aide to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, have both criticized Selma the movie for not giving enough credit to the former president for his role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Elaine Teng addressed the critics in “The Controversy Over ‘Selma’ Shows Why You Shouldn’t Fact-Check Movies” January 8, 2015, for The New Republic. She wrote, “Movies, like all works of fiction, require a suspension of disbelief, even if they are based on someone who really existed. They are made to entertain, to appeal to emotion, and to tell a compelling story—even if that story is not the whole truth.” Additionally, Teng focused on the idea Selma the movie and other recent releases like it that are based on historical events are meant to inspire people to learn more about what really happened, not provide a full history lesson.
The opinion of the family of Martin Luther King Jr.
At least one family member of the late Martin Luther King Jr. appeared to agree with Elaine Teng’s viewpoint on the historical accuracy of Selma the movie. On the website ajc.com, Jennifer Brett posted “Rev. Bernice King calls ‘Selma’ an incredible movie that’s not quite accurate” January 8, 2015, which shared some thoughts from the daughter of the late Civil Rights Movement leader on the cinematic depiction.
Brett quoted Bernice King, “This obviously was a Hollywood movie, and you don’t expect Hollywood to bring all of the facts to life,” she said. “What you expect it to do is bring the story to life. I think they did an incredible job of bringing the story of Selma to life.” King did share that she didn’t feel the movie accurately portrayed her parent’s relationship, but it did a good job highlighting the broader goals of the Civil Rights Movement.
Tackling racial inequality
Selma the movie is actually the first Hollywood film to focus on Martin Luther King Jr. and his part in the fight against segregation in the U.S. In “Hollywood Protests; Selma, the Big-Screen Story of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Marches, Resonates So Loudly in the US That the Team Behind the Film Are Harnessing Its Release to the Ongoing Protests over Policing and Racial Inequality” published December 17, 2014, for The Evening Standard (London), Edward Helmore discussed how the film has reflected the ongoing racial inequality in America, particularly after the string of nationwide demonstrations against police treatment of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and Cleveland, Ohio.
Helmore commented, “Selma has certainly arrived as a timely reminder of the principles of the Civil Rights movement.” That statement is true not only for the current state of racial inequality and segregation in the U.S., but also for the national holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. and his birthday.
Does it matter if Selma the movie is not completely historically accurate? How can films based on the Civil Rights Movement help us address racial inequality in modern life? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.