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Issues in 'Selma' Are Still Alive Today

Photograph by Paramount Pictures

"Selma," a film directed by Ava Duvernay and produced by Oprah Winfrey, couldn’t be timelier in our currently state of high racial, political and social unrest.

It spotlights a moment from the civil rights movement and documents the details of how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was drafted and enacted. Moreover, it depicts the political maneuvering demanded of those who dedicated their lives to the social and political progress of all Americans.

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The film has a cast that reads like a list of future Oscar nominees. David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offers a unique portrayal of the activist by organically capturing his subtle and quiet power. His performance is as much about the silence as it is about the speeches and marches. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King was riveting with her beauty and a nearly perfect representation of Coretta’s strong femininity and power. The narrative taps into the complex love between a Civil Rights icon and his compassionate spouse during a time when African-American families were under siege for being black.

There were countless scenes that were both disturbing and informative as we witness how white supremacy was supported legally, socially and politically, through what Dr. King referred to as terror tactics. Although we’d be hard-pressed to hear white police and politicians using language such as "nigger" and tactics like poll taxes and poll tests in order to vote, the practices of repressing the vote and police terror still exist today.

"Selma" reminds me to keep participating politically and socially in order to keep moving our country forward.

During the time of "Selma," it was acceptable and celebrated to wear your racism and superiority as a badge of honor for many Southern whites, while today, racism is more covert and systematic in its execution. But the results are still the same.

What "Selma" does beautifully is offer a history lesson about a very short time ago about the personal work of Dr. King. He created and strategically built the pressure needed to encourage and influence President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Forty-nine years later, as many Americans take voting for granted, you’d be shocked and terrified to see what black and white civil rights participants endured just to have political power. They understood that in order to have political power they needed to elect officials that would work to meet the needs of its constituency.

The film also depicts the interpersonal struggles within the various civil rights organizations. No progress is made easily and certainly without the power struggles born out of the human ego. In this film, Dr. King is master. Sadly during the time of "Selma" and now, crimes committed against African-Americans by the police department went unchallenged. The difference is, during the '60s and before, there was no expectation that the cops were intended to serve and protect African-Americans—only oppress.

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As an American citizen who happens to be black and a mom of a 7-year-old, "Selma" reminds me to keep participating politically and socially in order to keep moving our country forward. The film brings great evidence of how far we’ve come as Americans and how far we have to go. And it does so with both warmth and shadows that explore the inner working of our humanity and how we strive and struggle to make progress together and separately, within and without.

"Selma" is both historic and current. Director Ava DuVerney has created an intimate story about Dr. King—an icon who used his life, along with countless others, to move our nation to the place where we exist today.

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