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While biopics have the tendency to canonise the individuals being depicted, the portrayal of Martin Luther King in Selma is measured but mighty.

Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo’s performance as the US civil rights icon captures a complex and conflicted side to the great American orator.

The film, focuses on the Selma to Montgomery marches that eventually helped African-Americans gain equal voting rights. We see King working to keep his followers together and raise morale after several non-violent sit-ins turn violent at the hands of white police officers.

In the opening scene, King and his wife (Carmen Ejogo) are talking in a hotel room and, throughout the movie, the audience is privy to other intimate settings in the King household.

We see family dinners, putting the children to bed, and tense conversations with his wife about an alleged affair. This all works to paint a portrait of the activist as a family man who has to juggle his home life and political endeavours.

The film is particularly adept at exploring the divisions between different groups within the civil rights movement.

In one scene, President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) says to an advisor: “I want him to lead the movement. Not one of these Malcolm X types.”

Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) makes a brief appearance, and it is clear that the ideas and goals of both activists are not as conflicted as they appear when one promotes peaceful protest, and the other says black people must progress by “any means necessary”.

Selma, Oscar-nominated in the Best Film category, is a well-paced and concise drama that depicts the climate and conditions that were the driving force behind the civil rights movement, while bringing to life the characters that embodied it.

Selma movie poster: Ava DuVernay, Pathe, Cloud Eight Films, Plan B Productions.

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