At The Script Lab, we measure films by examining the combination of all aspects of filmmaking, with the screenplay at the core. Much goes into successfully telling a story. It is hard. It is intimidating. It is a true "blood, sweat and tears" process that combines the visual arts with the writing arts. When all of these pieces come together and form creative coherency that resonates, a good film has been created. Ava DuVernay, Paul Web, a highly talented cast and a team of dedicated producers (that includes heavy hitters Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt) have created that film. Its name is Selma.
A while back we published a brief trailer review of Selma. Many did not like it, as they thought we were slamming the film too fast. I am happy to write that we could not be happier to be wrong. Ava DuVernay has crafted a film that transcends a basic period piece and brings the culture (both negative and positive) to great light. From the impeccable set design to the well paced editing, we are immediately tossed into this universe, one of racism, but more importantly, one of hope, strength and courage.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of profundity who kept small dark pieces of his life [almost] hidden away. DuVernay successfully conveyed this with meditated grace, but uncompromising candor. King was also one of the most inspiring individuals in history, championing a movement that's ripple effects are still felt today. He had a distinct tone when he preached, one of strength, but never one that quivered or found itself saturated in abrasiveness. The collaboration between DuVernay and Oyelowo demonstrates a successful relationship (and bond) between director and actor – one that is example setting. Having the mammoth duty of pulling off Dr. King is a task that would potentially provoke daily panic attacks and outbursts for actors unprepared for the role. Oyelowo injects an essential calmness into his breezier screen time, thus allowing his freedom cries to ring loud with booming power and clarity. His sermons bounce up and down on the Richter scale as he fluctuates between cool, calm and collective and appropriately timed waves of towering truth.
When it comes to a film like Selma it is easy to automatically be influenced by the subject matter so that you are walking out of the theater with two thumbs up, having gleaned information that you will then go discuss shakily to your friends. Let's travel back to A Time to Kill – a movie with much potential, but horrendous execution from a directing standpoint. The adaptation dealt with murder, strength of family and will power, and racism (as the fuel for all motivations). But the initial story and setup are where intrigue ended and disaster began. Schumacher (Batman & Robin) lead his cast and crew down a path of cliches and walking metaphors (eg: Kevin Spacey's Rufus Buckley) forcing the film's good story potentials down the very trap door it was trying to avoid. Now, coming back to the present, think about these trap doors and how tough it is to avoid them. Webb, DuVernay and Oyelowo never even acknowledged they were there. They cohesively threaded a story with subtle characteristics that (on the screen) came off perfectly. Pain was felt. Hope was had. Communities were brought together. Oyelowo's well-blended concoction of mellowness and passion avoided the trap of turning in a performance that hung its hat on being bombastic. He was rightfully shown as a voice of reason. This trifecta not only promotes articulate storytelling, but controlled, meticulous filmmaking.
Selma has only received two Oscar nominations (with this being the year of snubs and all) which leaves a lot of us in the dark scratching our heads. Awards aside, the onscreen result is a group effort in every essence of the word, and one that deserves all of its glory.
Clip Credits: Paramount