Clenching the Nomination - Selma - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
17Feb/150

Clenching the Nomination – Selma

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Andrew discusses the scene in Ava DuVernay's Selma that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

Selma best

For many people, Selma is a biopic of sorts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Selma is not a biopic in the traditional sense.  Director Ava DuVernay, in seeking to make Selma, wanted to avoid the trappings of a film which seems obligated to hit the high points of a man's life in the hopes it will somehow live up to his legacy.  Films rarely do that, and to reduce the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a series of plot-based platitudes where an easy message can be gleaned from each beat does a disservice to his message and what he accomplished for the world.

This is why the scene that surely clenched Selma's nomination for Best Picture has little to do with King's message.  At first, it doesn't even seem to have anything to do with the escalating conflict of racial tension and violence brewing within the film.  We watch as a group of girls descend a staircase, making small talk, thinking about the future, and dressed in their Sunday finest.  These look like good girls, girls you want to see grow up and become great women.

But as soon as we see them we know something is off.  DuVernay does not go for a naturalistic visual style for Selma, but never again ventures into the visual dread which forms a counterpoint to the girls conversation.  The light coming in from outside the church seems to be muted, the colors a brownish green, and the edges of the lens blurred and distorted.

Then the explosion.  That deafening explosion.  For a moment life is still, and we watch as the bodies of four of the little girls go to their death.  I had an idea of what the scene was going to be about because Kyle and I have been watching the films of Spike Lee and recently watched Four Little Girls, the documentary about this very bombing.  But divorced from that DuVernay makes it clear that the struggle for Civil Rights is not about competing egos of men who want to shape the future or about the supposed genetic superiority spouted by generations of violent and hateful bigots.

This one scene reminds us it was about the innocent.  Every word that King speaks for the rest of Selma is dripping with the reminder that four little girls lost their lives for no reason and were protected by a police force so entrenched with the Klan that they might as well have had full immunity.  We remember those four girls as King marches with the protestors, we remember those girls as George Wallace shouts for segregation forever, and we remember those girls as another innocent young man is gunned down later in the film.

Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that Selma is going to win Best Picture.  Hollywood caters its award season to limp displays of liberal affection for righteous causes resulting in disastrous Best Picture winner Crash, and later revealing that truly deserving films like 12 Years A Slave won because some "didn't want to be seen as racist" so they voted for the film sight unseen.  But those four little girls haunt Selma, and should haunt the audience as well.  Selma's subject matter isn't what makes it a Best Picture nominee, but the way DuVernay honors the memory of so many.

Posted by Andrew

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