David Oyelowo is flawless in this pertinent historical drama

Selma should not be socially relevant to today’s political compass. It should only be well remembered and honored history. Yet, this saga of an irrational block to voting rights and the story of racial boundaries preventing social progress? They are still here, still prevalent.

Modern pushback is not as loud. Things have quieted. Politicians know how to finagle the system while foraging for votes. Bills pass, people shout in disagreement, but do so almost silently on social media. No one can hear a Tweet. If people do take to the streets anymore, they burn their own cities in a twisted form of psychological togetherness. Baltimore is on fire as this is being written, an outburst caused by another instance of police brutality. Such condemnable actions – on both sides – accomplishes nothing. Clearly, history is not honored nor remembered.

Paramount is distributing Selma to every high school in the United States. All of them. It is a marketing stunt, sure, but a necessary one. No studio has produced the definitive Martin Luther King Jr. film. Selma is the closest to earning the distinction. David Oyelowo’s fiery authenticity as King and relative unknown Av DuVernay directing grace Selma with respectful passion.

This is not a small story. Hollywood loves those perfunctory true event pictures concerning small southern towns (usually focused on high school sports) in the ’60s which degenerate into a torrent of shocking racial epitaphs and eventually reason as a “villain” is conquered. They sell easily. They all fed, in part, into Selma. By comparison, this is not an easy sell. It defies monetary reason. Wallowing in the worst of America’s tumultuous racial history without simplistic framing devices such as a football game is not typical. This is not a country fond of reflecting on its own failure.

This is not singular heroism; it is a depiction of brave necessity on the part of thousands.

Selma’s distressing message is that the walk through a recently desegregated 1965 Alabama town had to happen at all. Led by King, a group of 500+ African Americans marched across a bridge in silent protest only to be unconscionably assaulted for following their rights as citizens. The film’s reenactment of still photographs is alarming because of the truth they display. Cruelty. Indignity. King would return in coming days, now joined by people of all races, to cross the bridge in a moment of unheralded racial symbiosis. This is not singular heroism; it is a depiction of brave necessity on the part of thousands.

Such a march speaks loudly to current, paralyzing social turmoil. It has, through time, come to represent gay rights, financial inequality, and staggeringly, continued battles over voter’s rights. Selma teaches as a film of perspective. In this, it is valuable and it is real. Selma shows how rightful progress is made. Not through fear. Not through violence. Rather, perseverance, tolerance, and patience. It is tremendous to see this medium use its entire worth. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]

Speech @ 1:59:50

To recreate the time period, Selma’s post-production phase worked itself into a cliché. The sepia tones are certainly aggressive. Most primary colors are diluted. Exteriors of the city or homes are flattened. Plants are a shade of faded green.

Contrast is completely weakened too, especially black levels which slip into an unreasonable gray. Selma mostly appears murky or miscalibrated rather than authentic. There are no instances where shadows have weight or feel natural. The entire film is coated by a fog.

A saving grace is sharpness and detail, all given to Selma by the resolution and lens work of the Arri Alexa. Close-ups are consistent in their definition. The march itself is represented beautifully, with faces visible into the background. This only adds to the scale. What begins as a group confined to a sidewalk spreads halfway into the street and then the entire width. Each shot is progress in motion, captured here with perfection.

Noise, errant compression, etc. New releases have long found ways of removing those permanently. Encoding parameters have matured. Selma is amongst those with a perfect Blu-ray record. Any problems sit with the production itself. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

If there is anywhere not to be, it is amongst the deplorable action of Selma. The disc forces the point with screaming protestors and tear gas canisters hitting the low-end. This sense of place is sorrowful and as such, the disc has done its job.

Better are King’s speeches (re-written because of copyright), sent across a congregation or a swell of followers. The ability of the word’s to travel is excellent, splitting the surrounds naturally. Stereos engage fully too. Therein is a power which critiquing LFE or debating rear speaker placement cannot overcome. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Director Ava DuVernay provides two commentaries, beginning her work by paring with David Oyelowo and then director of photography Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick.

The Road to Selma is the first of the video bonuses, taking 13-minutes to explain the process of bringing the film together under a variety of filmmakers until it was finally made. Recreating Selma details the moral obligations, the people, and the history involved in such a project. It runs almost a half hour.

Six deleted scenes include a few moments worth watching for their context and performances. A collection of historical newsreels and images are important documents, as are the images contained in the National Voting Rights Museum, detailed in interviews by its curator in one of the better pieces on the disc. One promotional piece about student screenings is forgivable. The discussion guide for classrooms makes up for it. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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