28 January, 2015
How ‘Selma’ Got Smeared �
How ‘Selma’ Got Smeared �: Selma is, among many other things, a movie about tactics, and about how disagreements between men who see themselves as ideological comrades with strategic differences play out in the struggle for social justice. Those tensions are enacted on different fronts and in several pairings — not just in the scenes between King and Johnson, but in those between King’s men and the on-site leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (including future U.S. Representative John Lewis); between Johnson and Governor George Wallace (a smug racist who nevertheless views himself as the reasonable middle between Johnson’s softheartedness and the outright thuggery of Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark); and, by implication, between King and the less pastorally inclined, more outspoken Malcolm X. One of the most brilliant and honest connections that DuVernay draws between King and Johnson is that, like so many leaders, each man sees himself as a righteous warrior caught in the middle. But King’s “middle” is between what he views as the politically motivated incrementalism of Johnson and the angry urgency of Malcolm, whereas Johnson sees his “middle” as between the angry urgency of King and the troglodyte resistance of a cadre of unreconstructed white Southern politicians — a world from which he himself had emerged. In outlining these dialectics in Selma, a movie in which street action alternates with negotiating-table hardball, DuVernay doesn’t create false equivalencies, but she does offer a perspective that many establishment historians and journalists cannot — an outsider’s view of how men in power think about themselves.