Selma is a historical drama directed in 2014 by Ava DuVernay based on the 1965 voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to the capital city of Montgomery led by Martin Luther King Jr. The film relates to our class discussion about political opportunity structure and the strategic use of social movements to advance agenda.
Martin Luther King previously organized marches in Birmingham, Alabama to challenge segregation knowing that police will respond with force he places women and children at the front; He knew the media will potentially see police brutally beating woman and children.
The images of such brutality will ultimately influence voters by causing them to question the legitimacy of the law. This film was one that I was particularly excited to watch as it hits close to home.
As a person of black descent, I unfortunately remember countless stories of the discrimination and misinformation my family members faced. The film is incredibly important as people often forget how recent the struggle for voters rights is, my own grandmother voted for the first time when she was 31 years old after the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Selma is unique in that it focuses on the struggles that continued after the Voting Rights Act secured African Americans the legal right to vote. People were prevented from exercising their new right by antics such as poll tax, reading tests, and outright violence. In the film, President Johnson signs the Civil rights Act and heads in a different direction to focus on poverty despite the insistence by Dr.
King that there is still much work to be done to address voter suppression.
Against President Johnson’s wishes, King organizes a march from Selma to Montgomery as a peaceful protest. King and his fellow activists are threatened and watched by the FBI, his marriage to his wife Coretta was in jeopardy, and he began second guessing his strategy to achieve his goal.
Despite the support the protest garners inside and outside of Selma, the violence that King and his protesters encounters is severe and inescapable. I found the aspect of violence to be interesting compared to that of the protests staged by Malcolm X who believed in using violence to achieve his goal. I believe Dr. King, living in the deep south faced a much deeper degree of oppression than Malcolm X who lived in the North and had no choice other than peaceful protest.