Taking place in Selma, Alabama, in 1964, director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” exposes a Southern culture that viewed black Americans not as second-class citizens, but not as citizens at all. From Alabama Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) down to the brutish Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston), discrimination was nurtured at every level. While slavery may have been outlawed less than 100 years earlier, racist anger and resentment was constantly stoked in Southern white communities.
Into this cauldron marched Martin Luther King Jr., here played magnificently by British actor David Oyelowo. (Where is his Oscar nomination?) Dr. King, then living with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) in Atlanta, concluded that a protest march in Selma was the only avenue to force President Lyndon Johnson to sponsor a Voting Rights Act that would have allowed blacks to vote in the South. Repeatedly denied the ability to register, which was a requirement to serve on juries, the white power structure in the South insured their own position of complete dominance.
The strength of the film flows from King’s relationship with his associates, his wife and President Johnson. Tom Wilkinson, playing Johnson, adds to a long, distinguished career. Though the film has been criticized for improperly portraying the role of Johnson at that time, I think those critics missed the point. Johnson had already helped pass the Civil Rights Act, and he would soon make sure that the Voting Rights Act became law. Right or wrong, he wanted King to calm down and hold off his march, as he feared that our country danced on the edge of a second Civil War.
On the other hand, King would not, and could not, accept no as an answer, even coming from an American president. The movie begins with a chilling portrayal of the four young girls killed after a church in Birmingham was bombed Sept. 15, 1963, and King justifiably could not wait for possible future government action with those dead little girls dominating his thoughts.
There are a lot of reasons to hold J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) in contempt, none more so than the fact that his office was secretly wiretapping all of King’s phone calls. In the process, Hoover became aware of King’s unfortunate affairs with other women, and the FBI soon confirmed this with a tape sent to Coretta with the hope that this would keep him at home. While their marriage was obviously strained, the performances of Ejogo and Oyelowo allowed you inside their home where a wounded couple rallied to each other’s side for the greater good.
Ironically, much of the nation rallied behind King following the appalling newscasts showing the brutal beatings of the Selma marchers by armed white state troopers. Suddenly, King’s next march became integrated with white citizens from around the country joining his cause. It was a magical moment that changed the course of our history.
At this date, most Americans have accepted the fact that the Bush/Cheney administration led our country into a bogus war in Iraq. Based on the false allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, we poured trillions of dollars down a foreign sinkhole. What is worse – thousands of Americans died and many more were traumatized beyond description.
In “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Texas rodeo rider who became a Navy SEAL prior to 9/11. Serving four tours of duty in Iraq, he became known as “The Legend” after having recorded over 160 “kills” in a role reflected by the film’s title.
Concentrating on the emotional horror he endured while in Iraq, the film also deals with Kyle’s marriage. The strain from repeated tours of Iraq was brought home to his wife and family.
Bradley Cooper has been nominated in the Best Actor category for his role as Kyle, and it is hard to argue that this nomination is undeserved. However, Kyle was not a complicated man, and the film basically focuses on Kyle’s expertise in taking another human life. While that proved difficult for him at times, he viewed the Iraqi opponents as savages, and he was forced to rationalize his service as little more than saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.
Ironically, the star of this movie is Sienna Miller, who plays Taya, Kyle’s wife. She loves him and continues to stand by his side despite the fact that his Iraqi experiences haunt their relationship. Largely overlooked in her career up to this year, her performances here and in “Foxcatcher” establish her as a star to be followed.
Our country had no business in Iraq, and we now see the sad battles going on in places like Fallujah that were fought by American troops years ago. We overthrew Saddam and accomplished nothing other than to strengthen Iran while leaving Iraq’s internal structure in chaos. ISIS now seizes the opportunity to raise havoc in a vacuum created by our own country.
In a sense, this movie captured a lot of the heartache seen in Gary Cooper’s spectacular film, Sergeant York (1941). It is ironic that both of these tremendous actors have the same last name, and both played average Americans whose lives were brutally compromised because of their audacity to serve their country.
Simply stated, when Kyle and his comrades came home, they needed the Veterans Administration to rally to their side. Yet our politicians praise their service while letting the VA abandon them. We should all be ashamed.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.