First, let me say I did glean one positive from the movie. The acting was well done. David Oyelowo does a credible job as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Actually, the fact the British born actor could so convincingly play the Southern U.S. born preacher/activist is testimony to our political position as Pan-Africanists that it matters little where we are born, we are still Africans. After that, there are serious shortcomings with the movie. I'll start with the troublesome portrayal of Malcolm X and the film's depiction of an interaction between him and Coretta Scott King. In the film, when she sees him arriving in Selma, she dresses him down for attacking her husband and he cowers like a mouse in response. This depiction may represent the movie maker's sick desire to rewrite history to fit their political agenda, but it ain't what happened folks. First, the movie goes to great lengths to give you the impression that King's organization -the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was the dominant civil rights organization and other groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC - pronounced SNICK) were portrayed as being unreasonable fringe militants. The movie suggests that Malcolm opportunistically pushed his way into the work SCLC was facilitating in Selma while Dr. King was in jail. The truth is that SNCC had a base in Selma long before SCLC arrived and it was SNCC, not SCLC, that organized the event that day and it was SNCC, whose organizers were becoming increasingly influenced by Malcolm's militant nationalist/Pan-Africanist ideas, that enthusiastically invited Malcolm to speak to them, not SCLC, that day. In fact, Coretta Scott King gave an interview of her account of that day to Jackie Shearer on November 21, 1988. During that interview, Coretta Scott explained that she didn't even arrive at the event that day until after Malcolm had spoken. She recounted that she got there and Andrew Young immediately started chiding her to speak to try and redirect the enthusiasm that Malcolm's speech had generated. Coretta Scott indicates that she went into the event and spoke and after concluding, sat down next to Malcolm on stage. According to her, and everyone else who was present, it was at this time that he leaned over to her and told her that he was there to help. She expressed that her response was a simple thank you and that was it. No discussion. No tension. No drama. She goes on to state during that interview that this was her one and only encounter with Malcolm and how much she appreciated his "kind words." Their exchange lasted no more than 10 seconds, which was 10 seconds longer than any verbal exchange Malcolm and Dr. King ever had. These are facts folks.
Problem two is how SNCC was portrayed. The movie represents SNCC through the presence of only two characters; John Lewis and James Forman. The fact only two SNCC organizers are portrayed is unfortunate. SNCC had so many magnificent organizers working around Selma at that time. For example, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, a SNCC project (lead by Kwame Ture - formally Stokely Carmichael) was functioning just down the road from Selma in 1965 and it's success to register almost 1000 Africans through an armed self-defense effort was probably more significant than what happened in Selma. Actually, it was the Lowndes County project, better known as the Black Panther Party (BPP), which of course influenced the Huey P. Newton/Bobby Seale initiated Oakland-based BPP the next year. Also, Kwame Ture's defeat of John Lewis as chair of SNCC in 1966, represented the clear militant push to the left that SNCC was engaged in that had a major influence on the Black Power movement and in defining the struggle for the latter part of the 60s, 70s, and beyond. That's why it was curious why the film makers choose to depict SNCC as simply John Lewis - at that stage in SNCC's development he was one of it's most moderate members - and a completely under-developed James Forman who was much more in SNCC than the whining malcontent displayed in the film.
Last, but not least, the depiction of Lyndon Johnson and his interaction with Martin Luther King, George Wallace, and J. Edgar Hoover, was downright criminally inaccurate. Johnson was a Southern cracker from Texas who was not very different in his thinking from George Wallace. Johnson was known to be just as quick at using the n word as anyone could accuse Wallace so the film's effort to depict Johnson as the pragmatic political leader and Wallace as the bigot is a very weak attempt at political revision. The truth is Johnson and King's relationship at best was highly strained and difficult and no one can find anywhere any evidence of King referring to their relationship as anything else. In other words, those two had no working relationship. Anything Johnson did, from signing the Civil Rights legislation in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, was done only as a result of overwhelming political pressure mobilized against him to do so. And, he certainly didn't tell Hoover what to do. Any student of history knows that J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI with an iron fist from the 1920s until he was forced out in 1971. How? Because Hoover used the bureau to spy on everyone, including presidents. He had files on everything dirty every president was involved in from Coolidge in 1923 through Nixon in the late 60s and he made sure each president knew it. As a result, no president ever did anything to challenge Hoover, in public or private and this is a fact. The only reason Hoover was effectively moved out of directing the FBI in 1971 was because at that time he had exceeded the age limit for being eligible to be an FBI Director and this was the leverage Nixon's administration used to persuade him to finally step down. This is important for people to understand because the FBI continues to function autonomously, engaging in illegal practices against so-called citizens whenever it pleases. Hoover set the model. The bureau doesn't wait for any president to tell it to terrorize African people. That's its policy directive.
What's my conclusion on this film? The movie clearly has an agenda of promoting the concept that Africans and other oppressed people must have patience, be willing to suffer, and be prepared to accept nothing other than non-violence as the only available tool to fight any grievance we ever have with U.S. capitalism. In fact, despite whatever problems and shortcomings capitalism has, any solution we can generate can only ever be achieved within the context of this system. Anything else is absurd. That's the underlining message in this movie. The film's complete and irrational focus on non-violence and its distortion of the critical roles played by SNCC and Malcolm X, and the movie's complete dismissal of the roles played by groups like the Deacons for Defense confirm this. All of the militancy is cut out of Selma so that those who are ignorant never know that it existed in the first place. The film even included the often repeated scene of a white man brutalizing King in front of dozens of people who do nothing to stop it. This is clearly some sick white interpretation of us as helpless victims with no agency while they are able to do whatever they want, whenever they want. That scene itself says all that needs to be said about this movie. Watch it carefully. MLK is completing paperwork with a group of people when a white man asks if he can introduce himself. When he does this, everything stops as if nothing else except this white man is important. Then the man proceeds to walk up and slap the you know what out of the King character. Had this happened in real life, that cracker would be pushing up daisies right now whether the movement was committed to non-violence or not. The scene makes sense in this movie because the final objective of this movie is to continue the whitewashing of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To fashion him out as a brooding, sex-craved man who had such a one dimensional commitment to this tactic of non-violence that he didn't even have the common sense to defend himself from attack. All lies designed to keep us from focusing on who King really was and what his work was really about. Despite this film and other propaganda efforts, the truth is King was moving closer to the positions expressed by Malcolm and SNCC. In fact, SNCC was the primary vehicle pushing him to the left. It was SNCC that pushed King to take the progressive position against the Vietnam war and any student of history knows that, but you have to be clever enough to realize no Hollywood Corporate Movie Company, including one with Oprah's input - she's no advocate for real social change - is ever going to show you that true anti-capitalist direction that King was traveling towards.
So, see the movie and enjoy the drama, but don't be fooled into thinking you are learning anything about the history of our movement and certainly don't let yourself be influenced by our enemies on how the movement today against police terrorism, injustice, and anti-capitalism needs to be fought. King, Malcolm, SNCC, and others represented the aspirations of the masses of African people. The forces they were fighting against; the police, local, state, and federal government, and the corporate entities, are representative of the forces who benefit from the exploitation and oppression of African people. As a result, we will never negotiate our freedom and justice from these entities. Whatever we achieve against them will result from us understanding that their wealth is stolen from us. What we get will only be what we are willing to organize and take back from them. Any movie that depicts that real life struggle wouldn't permit you leave with that warm fuzzy feeling inside and won't be winning any awards in the process because Gil Scott Heron was correct when he told you the real revolution won't be televised - or shown in a motion picture.