Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Selma and Excuses

When rejecting an invitation, according to Amy Sedaris, one simply says, “I can’t come.” You don’t add a reason. “Anything after ‘because’ is bullshit,” according to Sedaris. That’s what I think of when I see the dearth of nominations for Selma in the Oscars. There weren’t more because the movie didn’t play the game, send out screeners, open earlier, deal with political backlash well. Frankly, my dear, anything after because is bullshit.

I have already seen Selma twice and I’m trying to figure out when I will see it at least a third and maybe a fourth time. I am not much of a moviegoer. I think I saw three movies last year. Selma, though, is a big screen phenomenon. There is a nuance in the faces, in the looks, in the gritted teeth and the beads of sweat that will be missed on a small screen. Furthermore, there is a public sensitivity to the directing that is palpable when one is sitting in proximity to other bodies, hearing the gasps, sighs, cheers, and tears.

David Oyelowo is as powerful an actor as I have ever seen. The movie was not permitted, for various reasons, to use any of the actual speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The script, then, had to be written for the power, syntax, and deliver of one of the greatest preachers in American history. Oyelowo delivers like the prophet Dr. King was. In the scene where Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo, confronts him about infidelity, one thousand emotions play across his face, before any words are spoken. I haven’t seen all most of the “Best Actor” nominees, but I am not really open to hearing why Oyelowo wasn’t chosen. Anything after “because” is bullshit.

There has been quite the furor over the portrayal of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the movie. Those concerned with his legacy argue that the movie portrays him as obstructionist to the voting rights of blacks in a way that is unfair to his true feelings and his true actions. LBJ was the consummate politician of our time. Generally known as an SOB and someone who made deals to get things done, he comes across as profoundly true to character in the film.

While it is certainly true that LBJ was a powerful force in advancing the paperwork and legality of civil rights in this country, it is also true that he did not do all the legwork or showing up that was possible. So the movie didn’t make LBJ into the savior figure that some want him to be. Too bad. There are plenty of other films of historical figures that aren’t letter perfect to character, motivation, and/or action. Should we destroy them all? I just want a one-word answer, since anything after “because” is bullshit.

The reality of Selma that sticks in my head is how King and others grapple with the reality that the response to the non-violent protests means some people will likely be killed. Each of the leaders is weighing in the balance the lives of those who will come, who will march, who will be beaten, with the denied full civil and human rights of an entire group of people. Children, elders, and bright young adults will be slaughtered out of sheer hatred, malice, and fear. The film has some footage of the actual Selma to Montgomery march, in which you see not only the marchers, but white people standing along the sides of the roads- flipping middle fingers, spitting, showing the Confederate flag, screaming. As those faces go by, I can’t help but think, “For shame. There is no explanation. Anything after ‘because’ is bullshit.”

There is something about Selma- about seeing innocent black bodies, beaten and broken in the street. There is something about knowing that the denial of the vote to many people is still ongoing. There is something about seeing the terrorist act of bombing a church and killing four little girls and knowing that no one paid for that crime until years later. There is something about seeing an all-white slate of best actor and actress nominees. There is something about denying the recognition of even a Best Director nomination to Ava DuVernay.

These things say that we are not yet post-racial. We are not yet to a place of equality for all Americans. We have not reached the mountaintop. We are still working to overcome.

There is a scene in Selma when Dr. King is confronting John Lewis and James Forman, the sons of thunder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He tells them that SNCC is concerned with “raising black consciousness”, but the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is concerned with “raising white consciousness”. This work is not done as long as any body of any color can be and is denied both the actual and the implied rights that are inherent to all American citizens. Until that day, we must stay awake, keep our consciousness elevated, and keep our feet marching forward in work of praying with our votes, our dollars, our letters, our sermons, our prayers, our neighbor love, and our rejection of the false idols of Oscar recognition.

To those who say “no” to this call, we know what you are. No qualifiers, explanations, or caveats are needed. Anything after “because” is bullshit.

Originally published on RevGalBlogPals: http://revgalblogpals.org/2015/01/19/monday-extra-selma-and-excuses/

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