erik lundegaard


Saturday November 08, 2014

Trailer: MLK Gets Ready for His Close-Up in ‘Selma’

In an MSNBC piece on the actor Jeffrey Wright published nine years ago, I wrote the following about his performance of Dr. Martin Luther King in HBO's film “Boycott”:

When I finally saw the film what blew me away was not just the imitation — that he could do both versions (rousing and everyday) of the public Dr. King — but that he was able to articulate a private Dr. King that felt real. ... The theme of “Boycott” (a good film, if too flashily directed) is that history just doesn’t happen. History is a series of choices, and the filmmakers work hard to show you the choices that began the civil rights movement. To do this they need a human Dr. King who works things through — from simply asking for a more humane bus system to demanding the elimination of segregation itself. It’s not just a great performance; no one will ever do a better Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let me repeat that: No one will ever do a better Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now we‘ll see. Now, nine years later, it’s David Oyelowo's turn:

Oyelowo impressed in a small part in “Lincoln” and had the thankless role as Forest Whitaker's son in “The Butler,” but he looks and sounds pretty good here. 

Other thoughts:

  • Tom Wilkinson as LBJ and Tim Roth as George Wallace? Are there no Southerners to play Southerners? Do we always have to go across the Atlantic? 
  • I love Wilkinson, but does his LBJ lack ... charm? LBJ oozed. He cajoled. Maybe he was different when dealing with King and Hoover but we need to see some of that. 
  • The march (or marches) in Selma is an interesting choice. Was it the last truly successful moment of the traditional civil rights movement? Before cries of “Black Power!” were heard, and the white middle class began to drift away? Before Chicago and the poor people's campaign and Memphis? Before Nixon's triumph? My immediate thought is: Why not Birmingham? Why not start with Greensboro and end up in Birmingham? 

But I'm glad this is being made. Because if it feels like we get Martin Luther King movies all the time, well, we don‘t. In fact, this is the first major theatrical film in which King is the central character. Did you get that? It’s the first theatrical film in which King is the central character. Paul Winfield played him in a post-“Roots” TV miniseries in 1978, Wright in 2000 on HBO, but this is only the 43rd portayal of King ever, and most of those are bit parts in larger stories, usually on TV, about the Kennedys, or Hoover, or Hover vs. the Kennedys. Because liberal Hollywood. 

New Yorkers and Los Angelenos get “Selma” on Christmas Day. The rest of us, Jan. 9.

Posted at 08:13 AM on Saturday November 08, 2014 in category Trailers