Jump to content

Recommended Posts

I would have been more than happy to watch two hours of MLK and his wife sitting at the dinner table and talking about... whatever. Oyelowo was so good, My Dinner With MLK would have been fine with me.

 

But as I am sure the current debate about the LBJ representation will spill over here, I also thought the LBJ/Wallace scene one of the better scenes in the film, as you can so clearly see the kind of power exchanges that white people in politics continued to leverage through the civil rights era. You so see Wallace at his worst, and LBJ (in a very balanced way) Presidentially attempting to secure his own interests.

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)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 145
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I like the movie a lot, don't much care about the historical accuracy complaints, love "Glory" playing over the credits, "star power" for me was "Oh, John Lewis, Oh, Bayard Rustin" more than "Oh, Martin Sheen". The film timeliness is very fortuitous (for society as well as the film's award chances).

 

But as I watched, I wished that there were a good way to make a film version of "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." That would be something for white America to truly understand.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to post
Share on other sites

My only major frustration was

that the church bombing at the beginning of the film really startled me and left me completely on edge for the remainder of the film. During every quiet scene with Martin and Coretta--the ones Michael mentioned he enjoyed--I couldn't quite enjoy the stillness and intimacy because I was anticipating a brick coming through a window. Still, the bombing scene establishes the systemic injustice present in that time period, and the heartbreaking cost for the black community. It sets the tone, despite my jumpiness.

Edited by Joel Mayward
Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, this was a nice quote from Wendell Pierce that didn't make it into my story but which I thought this community would be interested in:

 

The guy who was playing Jim Clark, just before we started, we said a prayer [….] 'Lord I want you to lift up Stan today'—he shocked Stan—'allow Stan to go to that ugly place of humanity. But Lord, know what we’re lifting him up with you.' And Stan just broke down. He’s playing…a villain. And he was so shocked at the love of the company praying for him that day, so that he could just be lifted up, to allow himself to go to the ugliest place and still play the role. It touched him to no end. I said, 'That’s what this movie’s all about.'

 

 

 

 

As someone who did some acting in high school and has always been fascinated by the psychological impact of acting (Vonnegut's "be careful what you pretend to be"), this anecdote moved me deeply. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

My only major frustration was

that the church bombing at the beginning of the film really startled me and left me completely on edge for the remainder of the film. During every quiet scene with Martin and Coretta--the ones Michael mentioned he enjoyed--I couldn't quite enjoy the stillness and intimacy because I was anticipating a brick coming through a window. Still, the bombing scene establishes the systemic injustice present in that time period, and the heartbreaking cost for the black community. It sets the tone, despite my jumpiness.

 

THAT SCENE.

I would have been more than happy to watch two hours of MLK and his wife sitting at the dinner table and talking about... whatever. Oyelowo was so good, 

 

 

 

Yes.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

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

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Augugugugh! Ana DuVernay speaks with a lot of vocal fry too! (Just compare her voice in these videos to the voices of Oprah Winfrey and the other actresses.) What is going on, people. What is going on.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, it's a very irritating form of ingrained static in anything transmitted electronically, for one thing. Makes hearing the actual voice more difficult. My sister (a music teacher) says she can never hear it without thinking about the damage that people are doing to their vocal cords.

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Converging agreement, definitely, although because of illness this week I wasn't able to write up the film yet.

 

But I did an interview with David Oyelowo who is a really interesting guy, and a VERY outspoken Christian. 

 

In particular I was struck by his answer (delivered in that Oxonian accent of his which sounds, um, nothing like MLK) to my question about why other recent films about civil rights and the legacy of slavery have downplayed the historical role of religion in opposition to racism: 

 

The fish stinks from the head down. If you as a director, a producer, a writer are not particularly interested — or in fact believe — in God as a beautiful Being from which love emanates, from which sacrificial love is the key … I think if you are not a person of faith, you probably are not looking at these stories through that lens.

 

And, whether we like to admit it or not, as artists, we do project our own worldview on to what we do. And so I think that if you are coming from a different perspective, from a faith point of view, you impose that on these stories, and it inevitably creeps into the result.

Then there was this:

 

SDG: What do you think is the task confronting Christian churches today regarding race relations? It’s bad enough that we have white churches and black churches, but worse is, so often, we aren’t even on the same page. What could each, for lack of a better word, “side” be doing differently to help bridge the gap and improve the situation?

Oyelowo: I'm glad you asked that! One of the beautiful byproducts of the film has been an initiative called “Hand in Hand,” and lots of churches have signed up for this. It’s basically an initiative where black churches and white churches go and watch the film together and have a town hall on reconciliation afterwards.

As you know, Sunday at 11 o’clock is the most segregated hour in America. You have black churches; you have white churches; you have Hispanic churches. It’s not really reflective of the world we live in, by and large, in America.

Read the rest.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, now I'm confused.

 

Ann Hornaday @ Washington Post:

 

To those who watch and listen to “Selma” carefully, they’ll realize that Johnson isn’t presented as the story’s villain. Far from it. In one of the movie’s opening scenes, he tells King he wants to help with voting rights but feels the timing is wrong. Later, forcefully pushing back against King’s sense of urgency, a frustrated Johnson barks, “You’ve got one problem, I’ve got 101,” graceful shorthand for the myriad political constituencies and competing interests he was juggling behind the scenes. His speech to Congress proposing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — when he famously quoted from the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” — is one of the most affecting moments of the movie.

 

Elizabeth Drew @ New York Review of Books (and yes, she is aware of Hornaday's piece and takes issue with it in another paragraph):

 

Johnson seized the opportunity of the bloody riots in Selma to make a dramatic speech to Congress to push voting rights—ending with the electrifying phrase “We shall overcome.” Here the movie fails miserably, deliberately playing down the drama of the occasion. This was perhaps Johnson’s greatest speech, certainly one of his most significant and passionate ones, yet it’s drained of its force. It actually was given in the joint session in the House Chamber, where State of the Union speeches are made, a setting with stateliness and an aura of excitement, with people crowding into the chamber and milling about; in the film, it takes place as if in the Senate, a far duller setting, with a bunch of politicians sitting dutifully at their desks. Finally and worst of all, the usually excellent Tom Wilkinson as Johnson delivers the speech in humdrum fashion, losing all the passion that Johnson showed and felt about enacting a voting rights law.

 

I haven't seen the film yet, but I get the impression the most egregious thing this film does, beyond simply downplaying LBJ's contribution to civil rights, is allege that LBJ somehow encouraged J. Edgar Hoover to ruin MLK's marriage. (In other words, the film does not merely dial back the good that LBJ did, it invents new bad things that he supposedly did.) Hornaday chalks this up to an "unfortunate" edit and leaves the reader with the impression that DuVernay *could* have edited the film differently and maybe even wanted to (has DuVernay herself ever addressed this?), but oh well, that's just how the story was structured. That seems like an awfully weak defense, to me. (FWIW, I don't believe I've heard anyone call the LBJ of this film an out-and-out "villain", but Chris Willman did say the film makes LBJ into MLK's "antagonist", and that's a big enough problem right there, if all the historians and eyewitnesses are to be believed. DuVernay told Rolling Stone that making LBJ look any better than he does in this film would have meant turning him into a "white saviour", but that doesn't seem very defensible to me either; as Drew puts it, LBJ and MLK were "partners" in this endeavour.)

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hornaday strikes me as closer to correct. The thing is, this isn't LBJ's story; it's MLK's, and it's presented as such. 

 

Just got back. I found this movie unexpectedly moving; there were moments where it struck me as too dialogue-heavy--there's one or two moments where people stand around giving speeches to each other, which tends to bug me. But for the most part, even the bits that seem fairly generic (text across screen telling what's going on, for instance) are given an interesting twist. And other stuff, like the march on the bridge, is gut-wrenching. The movie also carefully lays out the amount of political maneuvering that King etc engaged in--the tensions between factions within the Civil Rights movement are played out far beyond the typical Malcolm X vs MLK binary. 

 

 Wilkinson is good (and, um, how long is it before we can watch the entirety of US history through W's filmography?). David Oyewolo is very good; at times, his delivery and facial expressions reminded me unexpectedly of Orson Welles. 

 

I think this is--I shudder to say it--an important movie. If it feels too real at times, it's because the problems it confronts haven't gone away. As such, there's an air of melancholy about the sight of the Selma marchers--the fact that, visually, it evokes events much closer to home, temporally, undercuts the triumphalism that could have been injected here (as does the end-credits song). This isn't a pat movie, and it isn't an easy one. It is, however, one that is deeply in tune with scars and tensions buried deep within the United States to this day.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Elizabeth Drew @ New York Review of Books (and yes, she is aware of Hornaday's piece and takes issue with it in another paragraph):

 

Finally and worst of all, the usually excellent Tom Wilkinson as Johnson delivers the speech in humdrum fashion, losing all the passion that Johnson showed and felt about enacting a voting rights law.

I think Drew is selling that scene short. The moment is a triumph in the film, when Johnson - portrayed as someone whose heart is ultimately in the right place, but too much of a cowardly, scheming politician to make a stand on his own accord - finally does the right thing. Wilkinson delivers the line with a gravitas that I thought worked very well to portray the importance and Johnson's satisfaction.

"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

Link to post
Share on other sites

I should note that, (not?) surprisingly, my praise for this movie raised hackles among several of my white, native-Alabaman friends on Facebook. That's probably a testament to the fact that the issues it touches still run deep.

Edited by NBooth
Link to post
Share on other sites

It was really cool to see Lakeith Stanfield (Marcus in Short Term 12) as Jimmy Lee Jackson. I thought he was maybe the best performance in 12, but I was worried it was the kind of role that wouldn't lead to a sustained career.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
Twitter Blog

Link to post
Share on other sites

It was really cool to see Lakeith Stanfield (Marcus in Short Term 12) as Jimmy Lee Jackson. I thought he was maybe the best performance in 12, but I was worried it was the kind of role that wouldn't lead to a sustained career.

 

Of course!! Wow. I knew I recognized him. I hadn't made that connection. Cool.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

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

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth wrote:
: The thing is, this isn't LBJ's story; it's MLK's, and it's presented as such.

 

I don't think that's much of a rebuttal. Making the secondary character a villain just to make the primary character's heroism stand out more isn't justified just because the secondary character is secondary.

 

Evan C wrote:
: I think Drew is selling that scene short. The moment is a triumph in the film, when Johnson - portrayed as someone whose heart is ultimately in the right place, but too much of a cowardly, scheming politician to make a stand on his own accord . . .

 

Wait a minute, the film portrays LBJ as "too much of a coward" on this issue? Isn't that precisely what the *critics* of the film have been saying?

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Evan C wrote:

: I think Drew is selling that scene short. The moment is a triumph in the film, when Johnson - portrayed as someone whose heart is ultimately in the right place, but too much of a cowardly, scheming politician to make a stand on his own accord . . .

 

Wait a minute, the film portrays LBJ as "too much of a coward" on this issue? Isn't that precisely what the *critics* of the film have been saying?

Well, I don't think the film portrays LBJ as "too much of a coward." It portrays him as too cowardly, or too much of a schemer, to take a stand without a big push even if he supported civil rights, which worked very well dramatically and seemed fair historically.

Edited by Evan C

"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

Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth wrote:

: The thing is, this isn't LBJ's story; it's MLK's, and it's presented as such.

 

I don't think that's much of a rebuttal. Making the secondary character a villain just to make the primary character's heroism stand out more isn't justified just because the secondary character is secondary.

 

 

That's not the rebuttal. I wasn't even offering a rebuttal because I find the whole LBJ-history-debate to be incredibly tiresome. What I did say was that that I agree with the critic arguing that LBJ isn't the villain in the movie. He isn't; he's a politician with his own set of problems who's also trying to deal with. The movie portrays him less as an antagonist, even--the antagonist here is systemic racism--than as an exasperated authority-figure (and it does, incidentally, allow for the possibility that he's drafting something prior to his big reversal--at least, that was my impression from one of his conversations with MLK when he outright says that the legislation is taking forever to draft). LBJ isn't the villain here. He simply isn't.

 

But he's also not the main focus, and there's no reason to expect his own story to command an equal footing with MLK's if that's not the story the director is telling. Which it isn't. I imagine a fascinating film could be made out of the idea of MLK and LBJ as partners working out strategy, but this movie isn't it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think that's much of a rebuttal. Making the secondary character a villain just to make the primary character's heroism stand out more isn't justified just because the secondary character is secondary.

 

Johnson is NOT a villain.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth wrote:
: But he's also not the main focus, and there's no reason to expect his own story to command an equal footing with MLK's if that's not the story the director is telling.

 

I don't think anyone is saying the film should have put LBJ on "equal footing" with MLK. But if the film makes LBJ out to be an obstacle when, in fact, he wasn't -- and if the film shows LBJ trying to *undermine* MLK when, in fact, he didn't -- then that's a problem.

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth wrote:

: But he's also not the main focus, and there's no reason to expect his own story to command an equal footing with MLK's if that's not the story the director is telling.

 

I don't think anyone is saying the film should have put LBJ on "equal footing" with MLK. But if the film makes LBJ out to be an obstacle when, in fact, he wasn't -- and if the film shows LBJ trying to *undermine* MLK when, in fact, he didn't -- then that's a problem.

 

AFAIK, nobody denies that there was some level of tension and antagonism between MLK and LBJ. Johnson may not have authorized sending the MLK adultery tapes to Coretta, but "he seemed to consume the King surveillance with gusto, especially the personal stuff. 'He listened to the tapes that even had the noises of the bedsprings,' Time correspondent Hugh Sidey reported in 1975. Johnson would say, 'Goddammit, if you could only hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually'" (source).

With respect to Selma, the narrative that Johnson would have preferred to focus on the War on Poverty and defer the Voting Rights Act till a more fortuitous time until events in Selma forced his hand seems plausible. Why would King countenance the violence and death that occurred in Selma if Johnson were able to assure him that he was getting what he wanted anyway? 

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

The source for that LBJ quote is this Time magazine story. But it's behind a paywall, so I can't read it right now.

 

Drew says LBJ "seized the opportunity" to move on civil rights after certain events took place in Selma, whereas you say those same events "forced his hand". I suppose both spins are possible, depending on how one looks at it. For now, though, it seems to me that more historians have criticized the film on this point than not -- and I echo what kenmorefield said on Facebook, about Andrew Young's testimony (the film got everything right *except* for its portrayal of LBJ) carrying a lot of weight in particular because he, Young, *was there*.

"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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, I really liked the scene with LBJ and Wallace.

 

A couple of non-LBJ scenes:

 

1. When the police start beating people outside the courthouse. The camera pushes in onto MLK's face and the work there is fascinating: you can see the conflict in his face. On the one hand, this is 

precisely what they need in order to get the optics required for their mission. On the other hand, King clearly hates the violence and is conflicted about having to stand by while it takes place. The movie is frank about the calculation that went into some of these marches--they need a violence-prone sheriff to prove their point, but such a move requires the sacrifice of innocents. 

 

2. The scene between King and his wife, after she's heard the FBI clip--"Did you love any of the others?" etc. It's played straightforwardly and with tremendous honesty, and it's one of the most effective interactions between the two.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...