Ahem. “Faced with the overwhelming stubborn mule that is the American girth of racism and backward stagnancy, Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) uneasily fuses together a coalition of the willing (and unwilling) toward showing America the full extent of its wrongs and doing whatever he can to pursue a greater right”. With a story like that, one would be forgiven for assuming all the hype around Selma boils down to a work of reigned-in Oscarbait, safe and streamlined and ready and willing to fall in love with its own saccharine self. It would seem this crowd-pleasing lull is the de facto state of the corporate biopic, flying high on easy, over-written drama and hagiography, indifferently filmed, edited, composed, and photographed, and resting almost entirely on the laurels of the main actor/ actress in the lead role.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like a “based on a true story” historical biopic and a popular lead actor/ actress to lull a film, and its director, to sleep. Released in late 2014, at one of the most pressing and pointed periods of racial tension and heated, boiling conflict in the modern era of the US, the thought of a work like Selma is exciting and invigorating. And the worry, the ever-crawling feeling that it may just be hope, is even greater. In this state of the world, if Selma was simply a work of moderate visual panache, it would be a godsend, but as we know, biopics like this, works about the “great men” of history with their great performances backing them up, are not the friends of “visual panache”. Prior to release, the fear that Selma was just another embalmed, wheezing biopic about the past, designed almost entirely to make the people of the present feel good and sufficient about themselves, couldn’t have been greater. Continue reading