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MTV talked to Daniels, who said that Liam Neeson would play President Lyndon B Johnson. That’s not the first name I would have thought of for Johnson, but it is pretty fantastic, and seals my ticket. Cedric the Entertainer will be Ralph Abernathy, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the man who became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

They join what was already looking like a solid cast. Among the other participants are Lenny Kravitz (who was pretty good in Precious) as activist Andrew Young, Hugh Jackman in a rare non-sympathetic role as racist sheriff Jim Clark, and David Oyelowo as Dr. King. The latter is great casting, too. All in all, as this comes together the cast has me more and more locked in.

...

Selma will largely center around the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, and obviously take into account the demonstrations and marches that took place in Alamaba in the early ’60s.

 

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Link to Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. I don't think we have a thread for Shadowboxer.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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So after waiting for years for Spielberg to get off his butt and make that movie in which Neeson would have played 1860s president Abraham Lincoln, Neeson is now going to play 1960s president LBJ. From the end of slavery to the civil rights movement. Interesting.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I was watching The Insider the other night, and thought that perhaps Michael Gambon would make a pretty good LBJ.

*edit: Ooops. Looks like Gambon has already played LBJ in HBO's Path to War.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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FWIW, the first LBJ that I can remember seeing onscreen was the rather cartoonish guy played by Donald Moffat in The Right Stuff (1983). Interestingly, Moffat went on to play another (generic) president in Clear and Present Danger (1994).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 year later...

Mike Fleming @ Deadline.com has an interview with Andrew Young, a former confidante of MLK's who has been putting pressure on the makers of this film and Memphis (the latter of which was recently put on ice by Universal) to change their scripts to make them more hagiographic. (Jeffrey Wells offers his two bits on Young and his evasions here.)

One of the funniest bits in Fleming's article is the bit where he says: "Young is admittedly protective of the reputation of his close friend, and said he pines for someone to do for King what Richard Attenborough did for Gandhi." This, at a time when a controversial new biography of Gandhi is once again exposing the fact that Mohandas wasn't exactly the saint that Attenborough made him out to be.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 years later...

Exclusive: Liam Neeson May Finally Be LBJ in “Selma” with David Oyelowo

“Selma” was the movie Lee Daniels was trying to put together until “The Butler” set his silver tray down in Daniels’ lap. The rest will be history when “The Butler” opens August 16th.

So what happened to “Selma”? Ava Duvernay, whose debut “Middle of Nowhere” was an indie hit in 2012, is taking over.

“Butler” star David Oyelowo, who plays Forest Whitaker’s son with breadth and imagination in the Daniels film, is set to play Martin Luther King. And I can tell you that Liam Neeson, originally thought of to play Lyndon Johnson when “Selma” was Lee Daniels’ movie, will indeed get that chance. Some of the other actors from Daniels’ cast list, like Robert DeNiro and Hugh Jackman, may be signing up as well. . . .

Roger Friedman, August 7

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 year later...

I did a set visit for this film last month and saw them film the MLK speech on the courthouse steps in Birmingham. Oyelowo was amazing. Also part of a roundtable interview with Wendell Pierce that is, unfortunately, still under embargo that was just...wow. 

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  • 2 months later...

So, another British (David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, etc.) take on American race relations, following 12 Years a Slave. (Well, okay, the director -- Ava DuVernay -- is American, at least.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Nijla Mumin, Shadow and Act:

"... "Selma" is the definitive human portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. and a group of activists fighting for unrestricted voting rights for black people, which culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and a successful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. But it took lives, pain, and community to get there. This film is about those moments in between the back-room deals where the fates of lives were brokered. It documents the human struggles, doubts, tactful strategies, and persistence that rendered change.

At a preview screening of "Selma" at the Urbanworld Film Festival, I heard David Oyelowo speak, tearfully, of being called by a higher power to play Martin Luther King Jr.  After seeing this film, I understand. I understand and feel the physical and internal investment that he made to transform into this man, which involved more than a change in accent and mannerisms. In one of the best scenes, he calls Mahalia Jackson (played by singer Ledisi), and is soothed by her singing a gospel song to him over the phone. He was a person who needed this to go on ...

By centering on this distinct moment in time, Paul Webb’s script avoids the traps and clichés of so many biopics attempting to condense whole lives into a few hours by offering big themes that never get explored. There are no wasted moments here. There are no wasted characters. The film is as much about Martin Luther King Jr. as it is about the people he worked with, and fought for. It is also about him as a man in love with Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), and the marital issues they faced. Other directors would’ve taken the opportunity to scandalize this element, but Ava brings it into a close, intimate moment, complicating the Hallmark image we've come to know. Martin Luther King Jr. was a person ...

Performances are strong across the board. Tim Roth as the shrewd, racist Alabama Governor George Wallace and Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson add needed dimensionality to the obstacles and faulty allegiances that Martin Luther King Jr. navigated. Carmen Ejogo strikes an uncanny resemblance and almost scary likeness to Coretta Scott King in several scenes. People thinking that this film is a vehicle for Oprah or the second coming of The Butler will be proven wrong.

This film does more to advance new conversations on the legacy of human rights and the ever-present threat of violence and trauma in black life- something that seems so regular within the racist hierarchies that allow it, but when broadcast across the world and into homes of fellow human beings, becomes grotesque. There is no way to watch this film and not think of Ferguson, of Trayvon walking home, of Renisha McBride, of the severity and sudden violence lurking around corners of black life. Rarely has a film been able to merge an epic dramatic event with social critique, and still make make it human. "Selma" accomplishes this feat. "Selma" is the human narrative.
"

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm really, really hoping we can talk about this film without dragging Ferguson into the picture. There is just so much distortion in all the hype around Ferguson, and just trying to sort out truth and fiction in an historical movie is complicated enough without tying that job to the job of separating truth from fiction in current events -- and extremely heated current events at that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

So, I was told embargo was lifted on the 14th, so here's my write up of the set visit round-table with Wendell Pierce:

 

 

All of these people were leaders in their own right, and it wasn’t a coincidence that they were reverends. [it] was a Christian movement, and I think the thing that was amazing about it was not only showing the hypocrisy of Americans, challenging them, but challenging Christians also. Dr. King […] really challenged people’s spirit, heart, and soul—what they believed in. How could you be Christian and treat others that way? I think that was the combination of the two: the political strategy of understanding what advocacy could do, understanding what God could do in non-violence, but [also] understanding that they were men and women of faith trying to appeal to the hearts of other men and women of faith.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The movie ‘Selma’ has a glaring flaw

The makers of the new movie “Selma” apparently just couldn’t resist taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment to work as a big-screen historical drama. As a result, the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.

In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.

On Jan. 15, 1965, LBJ talked to King by telephone about his intention to send a voting rights act to Congress: “There is not going to be anything as effective, though, Doctor, as all [blacks] voting.”

Johnson then articulated a strategy for drawing attention to the injustice of using literacy tests and other barriers to stop black Southerners from voting. . . .

For the truth about Johnson, the Voting Rights Act and Selma, listen to the tape of the LBJ-MLK telephone conversation and read my numerous reports to the White House, which have been on the LBJ Presidential Library Web site for years.

All this material was publicly available to the producers, the writer of the screenplay and the director of this film. Why didn’t they use it? Did they feel no obligation to check the facts? Did they consider themselves free to fill the screen with falsehoods, immune from any responsibility to the dead, just because they thought it made for a better story?

Contrary to the portrait painted by “Selma,” Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. were partners in this effort. Johnson was enthusiastic about voting rights and the president urged King to find a place like Selma and lead a major demonstration. That’s three strikes for “Selma.” The movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., Washington Post, December 26

 

- - -

 

Has Johnson *ever* been treated positively in the movies? The first movie I can remember seeing him in, i.e. 1983's The Right Stuff, treated him like a buffoon, as I recall.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Jeffrey Wells:

 

Two and a half days days ago The Washington Post‘s Karen Tumulty evaluated the accuracy of Selma‘s disparaging portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, particularly its assertion that LBJ was initially reluctant if not hostile to supporting voting rights legislation (i.e., particularly during an argumentative meeting he had with Martin Luther King in December 1964). The film also clearly suggests that Johnson told FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to send audiotapes of MLK having it off with his motel girlfriends to wife Coretta Scott King. Tumulty’s piece, posted on 12.31, found the reluctant-to-support-legislation aspect highly disputable and the Hoover sex-tape flat-out wrong. King ally and confidante Andrew Young, in a three-way phone conversation with himself, Tumulty and Selma director Ava DuVernay, “lavished praise” on Selma but said its “depiction of the interaction between King and Johnson ‘was the only thing I would question in the movie…everything else, they got 100 percent right.’ (DuVernay declined to be interviewed on the record by Tumulty.) Tumulty also extracted an unequivocal denial from former Johnson special counsel Larry Temple about Johnson allegedly okaying the hassling of MLK with Hoover’s sex tapes. “I’m 100 percent sure that was not true,” Temple says. Another Selma fact-checking piece, posted today by Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Labrecque, concurs with Tumulty’s assessments in these two areas.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I was too. This is how biopics are best told--intimate, personal, affecting, a behind-the-scenes dirt-and-all look at an important icon in American history without pandering to hero-worship or scornful criticism. It is also openly Christian, not shying away from the fact that King is a pastor and calls on clergy to come to Selma, but doesn't show this in a heavy-handed way. God is the primary motivation behind King's actions, and neither he nor the film wavers on this point. And what a performance by David Oyelowo!

 

Also, Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted this last night: 

 

 

If THE IMITATION GAME wins Best Picture over SELMA because of this historical fidelity crap we might as well give the US back to England.

Yep.

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I wasn't as huge a fan as you guys, but agree completely with the MZS quote. Historical fidelity aside, Selma is far superior to The Imitation Game. Historical fidelity included, Selma still runs away with it.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I am conflicted. I was very distracted by star power in the film, for some reason. Not sure why I am so sensitive to it here. I also found it fairly uneven in tone, in that it deploys a wide array of melodramatic conventions (slo mo, close-up slo mo, establishing shot slo mo, text description, SnorriCam (?), etc...). Felt at times as if the dp were throwing everything he had at the script. The script was excellent, good enough that a little restraint would have gone a long way.

 

I also wanted more. More Soderbergh-like focus on the processes of court and law that made all this possible. I wanted to see it breaking down, changing. I think this is a case where another 30 mins would have been helpful.

 

But I went Bordwell on a particularly moving scene here.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Michael, I, too, was very distracted by the casting decisions, at least early. I think I may have guffawed when Tom Wilkinson showed up, and then Tim Roth, but about an hour into the film, I realized my strongest responses (dramatically) to the movie were coming during the LBJ scenes, and I began to see the character rather than the actor. The same thing started to happen with Roth. Indeed, my favorite scene in the entire film may be the scene between LBJ and Wallace, but I'm hesitant to admit that my favorite scene in a movie about the African American experience was between two white guys.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I am conflicted. I was very distracted by star power in the film, for some reason. Not sure why I am so sensitive to it here.

 

The one moment that really catapulted me *out* of the movie was the appearance of Martin Sheen looking and behaving like President Josiah Bartlett: Time Traveler.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I admit, casting Oprah was a little distracting, but even then, she did such a good job that I wasn't distracted from the story for long. I thought the rest of the cast was fantastic, other than Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover. That whole scene with him just came across as weird and out of place, even if Hoover did hate MLK.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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