Reflections on the Film, Selma (2015)

Last year, my dad wrote a review of the film Selma, which was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Original Song, “Glory.” As part of his movie review he invited me to share some of my own reflections. In honor of MLK Day I wanted to share those reflections again regarding this remarkable film. 

If you never got a chance to see John Legend and Common’s Oscar performance of their song, do yourself a favor. Stop everything and watch it now.

This summer, racial tensions erupted throughout the country, sparked by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Most would agree these are uneasy times in our nation. This is also a sacred moment and opportunity for our nation to have the courage to deal with the lasting and deep-rooted effects of racism. As my dad points out, the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived and died for has never been fully realized in the United States. The movie Selma is one of many invitations being extended to us to wade into these sacred, albeit tumultuous waters in order to bring healing to our communities. Including our churches.

The Gospel is a message of hope and salvation. It is also a message of reconciliation, to God and one another. This includes working for a more just and equitable society and changing unjust laws that oppress poor communities and communities of color. As we see in the movie, this was at the heart of Martin Luther King’s message, as a pastor and an activist. For many white Christians, fear hinders us from talking honestly about race and racism. This, along with the protests happening around the country, should help us see that we are still in need of significant racial healing. But, we will be unable to truly heal and be reconciled if we are unwilling to see how the past is not really in the past. The movie Selma provides a powerful bridge between the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and what is happening right now in the United States.

This past year I quit my job as a university professor and moved to Sacramento to be part of the social justice efforts in the region, specifically racial justice and reconciliation. As part of my work and training, I have had the opportunity to hear directly from young organizers from Ferguson and clergy who stood with them. They have experienced violence similar to what happened in Selma. Are we willing to listen to their stories and be propelled by the Gospel to stand up for what is right? This was the prophetic call set forth by Martin Luther King. Thankfully, the movie Selma doesn’t sugarcoat or whitewash this moment in our history. We have an opportunity to face this call squarely again and decide what we will do.

Let me close with this final comment. Since the protests began in Ferguson, I have said repeatedly we need to pay attention that women are leading this new movement. Women, young and old, have always been at the heart of the civil rights movement. Even if their stories are, regrettably, less familiar to us they deserve to be heard. They NEED to be heard. It is significant that Selma was directed by Ava DuVernay, an African-American woman. Furthermore, my dad is right. It’s ridiculous that neither the director nor any actors were nominated for Academy Awards. Arguably, one of the most powerful portrayals in the movie is that of Amelia Boynton (who just this week was an honoree in attendance at President Obama’s State of the Union). Her conversation with Coretta Scott King regarding the strength of their people, followed by the physical violence Amelia endured on Bloody Sunday, brought me to my knees.

Do not miss the movie, Selma. I pray also we do not miss this opportunity to continue the courageous and dangerous work of the Gospel, as seen in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who stood with him.

 Originally posted Jan. 23, 2015

Brandy Liebscher