Martin Luther King Jr. Isn't The Man You Thought You Knew In Ava DuVernay's 'Selma'
With the unrest in Ferguson and racial tensions still tainting America, Ava DuVernay delivers an eerily timely piece of art with her latest motion picture Selma. The movie chronicles the strategic moves Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his team of lawyers, activists, community leaders and protesters made in order to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and thus change American history.
DuVernay also breaks away from the perfect facade that has surrounded Dr. King for many years. With tenderness, Selma shows Dr. King simply a man. DuVernay removes Dr. King from his historic pedestal and humanizes one of history's most courageous figures. Check out the five things VIBE learned from Ava DuVernay's Selma.
1. Dr. King was no saint
History has been kind to Dr. King, turning him into an immortal figure whose courage under fire has made him more of a God than mortal. But what history books neglected to mention was despite possessing an unshakable faith, King was often unfaithful to his beloved wife, Coretta. DuVernay does not shy away from exposing King’s flaws and in one of the film’s more personal scenes, King and Coretta sit in their living room, listening to a recording sent from J. Edger Hoover of King having sex with another woman. It’s a jarring moment filled with shame, hurt and tension, but it also places Dr. King and Coretta on equal ground with the rest of us. Not only were these two fighting an epic battle on our behalf, but they were also dealing with very human conflict as husband and wife.
2. Corretta Scott sacrificed as well
While her husband was standing on the front lines and fighting the good fight, Coretta was at home, raising their four children. She often wouldn’t see her husband for weeks at a time and was expected to be OK with it—for the greater good. While we only real know that Coretta was Dr. King’s wife (an honorable title to have), she endured nights of worry and fear that her husband might not make it. Many times Coretta had to hold it together for the sake of her kids while her phone continued to ring with death threats. Coretta and Martin weren’t given the opportunity to fully enjoy their marriage because King committed himself to the movement, and their marriage unfortunately took a back seat.
3. Dr. King was surrounded by death and weighed down by guilt
There was nothing peaceful about the many non-violent protests that swept the country during the Civil Rights movement. While many brave men and women practiced civil disobedience, that did not mean their opponents believed the same. In one of the film’s most gut-wrenching scenes, the depiction of Bloody Sunday was especially excruciating. As nearly 600 men and women peacefully marched across a bridge in Selma, officers retaliated with the use of Billy clubs, tear gas and most importantly, their hate. The images of brutality against peaceful marches struck a chord in America when they were first splashed across newspapers in the 1960s, and seeing those images in the film wasn’t any easier. Dr. King knew non-violent marches, not reacting to each blow, kick or punch issued was the only way to proceed, and he knew many would be hurt in the process, but that didn’t make it easier for the preacher to stomach. For every death that occurred because of the movement he led, Dr. King took that with him.
4. Dr. King kept the course with the help of many
In Washington, D.C. where Dr. King’s monument stands, many see a tall, wise man whose faith was as impenetrable as the piece of stone his statue is carved from. Some may believe this is an accurate description of how he proceeded throughout the movement up until his assassination, when it was quite the opposite. With the help of his King's men (James Bevel, Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin and Hosea Williams and many others), he stayed the course but many times, wanted to give up. While sitting in a hot, sweaty jail, King thought about other brothers killed in the fight, like Medgar Evars, and even confessed to a young Andrew Young that he couldn’t go on anymore. The weight of the movement began to take its toll on King and could be seen in one particular scene as he writes a letter to his wife and lights a cigarette. King's smoking was a revelation to many but also proved the weight of all was often too heavy to bare.
5. Dr. King was more than four words
“I Had A Dream” are the four words Dr. King has been reduced to. At 39 years old, he had charm, intelligence, a playful side and played the roles of father, preacher and husband. King was more than a man with a vision but a man of faith who was unfaithful. He was courageous yet weak. He had endurance yet grew tired. If there's nothing else you take from Ava DuVernay's Selma than you should take that Dr. King, as brilliant and as brave as he was, was also very human.