FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #67 – “Selma” (dir. Ava DuVernay)

Poster for "Selma"

Just in time for the Oscars, Glenn and Daniel take a deep dive into history with Selma, a powerful, dramatic film that gets into uncommon depth on some complex historical issues. Not every speechifying moment of this film landed for us, but all in all, it’s both an artistic triumph and fodder for a fascinating discussion (54:25).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is the track “Glory” (by Common and John Legend), from the film’s end credits – a choice we had mixed feelings about in the film, but that is no less powerful for it.
  • The 1965 church bombing depicted in the film occurred at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing killed four young black girls and injured 22 others. Although the FBI quickly identified the four co-conspirator Klansmen they believed responsible for the bombing, the first of them, Robert Edward Chambliss, was not charged and convicted until 1977. Two other co-conspirators were charged and convicted much later, in 2001 and 2002 respectively, with Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. sentenced to life with the possibility of parole (he remains in an Alabama penitentiary at the age of 84 as of this writing), and Bobby Frank Cherry sent to prison for life, where he died in 2004. The fourth alleged co-conspirator, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 and was never charged with the crime.
  • We didn’t do a full review of Lincoln, but the film did make it into Glenn’s Top 10 Films of 2012 – read that entry here.
  • Carmen Ejogo also played Coretta Scott King in the 2001 film Boycott, about the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, which took place ten years before the events of this film. Not only did this make Ejogo almost perfectly age-appropriate for this role in both films, but she received King’s blessing for the portrayal prior to the 2001 film (and prior to King’s death in 2006).
  • CORRECTION: The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to vote regardless of the person’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, was ratified in 1870 – even earlier than we stated. By the time the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the laws that it struck down had been suppressing the African-American vote for nearly a century after the amendment was ratified.
  • CORRECTION: Jimmie Lee Jackson died in the hospital 8 days after being shot, not a day later as we said. We also mistakenly stated that his killer, former Alabama State Police Corporal James Bonard Fowler had died in 2010 – this is incorrect; Fowler is 81 years old and still alive as of this writing. We were perhaps thinking of Sheriff Jim Clark, who died in 2007.
  • CORRECTION: We mistakenly identified Archbishop Iakovos as a Jewish official; he was actually a Greek Orthodox Primate (the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America), and he did indeed march at the head of the line, hand-in-hand with MLK during the final Selma-Montomery march, as captured in this photo, which appeared in LIFE Magazine. We regret the error.
  • Daniel mentioned that then-Alabama Governor George Wallace ran “one of the most racist campaigns in modern southern political history” – this is actually a quote from former President Jimmy Carter, referring to Wallace’s second campaign for Governor of Alabama in 1970. Primary sources were hard to come by online, but this book does corroborate the story that Wallace supporters posted several racist ads on his behalf, an example of which is available here, for those with historical interest. In his later years, Wallace publicly recanted his racist beliefs, and asked for the forgiveness of African-Americans – one of the only opposition figures featured in this film who did so.

Listen above, or download: Selma (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)