Review Written by Anthony Tyson. January 20, 2015
I normally would include some little quote at the beginning of this to kind of sum up what the movie ended up being for me as a whole, but this I think requires a different approach as a review. I think this movie brought out an affirmation to me, in regards to movies that tackle Slavery, Civil Rights, and Racism. To preface: there is a whole lot of greatness in the film, but the thing that struck a chord in somewhat of a bad way ended up spurning this affirmation I mentioned. Let's start with the good however, as I wish to stress that this is a movie to see regardless of what problems it may have.
This film has an amazing cast of people involved. You can definitely feel the pasion they wanted to put in this, and it was extremely well acted as well as expertly shot. The cameramen on this, are definitely to be commended. The way they blended their own reenactments of historical events, with actual footage of the real event, was really smartly done. It was seemless, and the attention to detail was phenomenal. They also never had any dull moment occur either, and the conversations between characters very meaningful. The political debates and the laws characters discussed: fascinating. And Martin Luther King? Well it was a performance of a lifetime, from the relatively unkown actor, David Oyellowo. The speeches were just incredible, he completely embodied the fire that MLK had, and even his mannerisms. You didn't see an actor portraying a character, its like as if it was actually MLK on the screen. MLK was presented incredibly smart as well, not as a saint- but as a leader and a man. You get the feeling that you too, with the right attitude and passion, stand up for what is right as well.
With all this good, what could possibly be bad? Well it has to do with something that films with similar subject matter tend to do: black men, women, and children; dying, defeated, almost helpless sometimes.
This is not something I realized on my own however, as this idea was given to me from a friend I saw this film with. She stated that to her, that this is all too common in films about these subjects. I asked her to clarify; MLK was portrayed strong, prideful, and intelligent. The men and women out risking their lives werent dejected and defeated either, their resolve remained unbroken. She mentioned that its really aggravating that these movies seem to revolve around the torture, the death, and beatdown of black men, women, and children: It made her numb to a lot of what the movie was trying to evoke. "Is it necessary to see such blood and terror, for people to feel empathetic to the concept of men and women fighting for Equal Rights?" That was a point . As I looked back on the movie, I really thought of what made me feel attached to the struggle and what MLK was trying to acheive, when I realized that it wasn't people getting beten and dying that did that. The only point I had any outburst of emotion(aka yes I did shed a tear) was when Coretta King was letting out her pain and frustration about this struggle for basic human rights to another woman next to her. The woman(I believe her name was Amelia) says, "We are a people descended from a mighty culture of Kings, that led the world to achievements and advancement in our age. We survived a grueling travel across the sea, and cruelty in a foreign land. We will survive this." That resonated with me so much. Tragic, but not completely heartbreaking either. Very inspiring in the end too, cause too often we view Africa as a tragic unfortunate mess. Not as the people who lead to advancements in science, and culture. That History is still there however, and its that history that got me inspired: not their slavery and subjugation . Children did not need to be blown up, people shot point blank, people beaten with clubs, run over with horses, whipped: none of that was completely necessary. I get that its important to understand what happened, it's horrific and terrible that this happened in "the land of the free". For my friend however, its just more examples of black men and women getting killed on screen. She wanted more focus towards what these men and women acheived. If the 10 to 15 minute scene of people just getting beat on the bridge, was focused towards the end of the movie: the message would be all the clearer. This movie is not the most agregious on watching these things, but it is a focus that I believe could have been better used towards showing acheivements of people in office.
While that is unfortunate, it doesn't destroy the film however, as the core of the story is about Martin Luther King and his desire to gain equal rights for all people. His presence is just so incredibly strong and the movie is a reminder of what we can never go back to, as a nation and as a people. The movie is definitely one to watch, but after you do, go watch Malcolm X. Look at that movie and what it is, and then compare it to this. Malcolm X is the perfect example of a movie that didnt require long sequences of men and women dying in mass, for the point to come across. David Oyellowo definitely deserves an Oscar Nomination though, and his performance is more than worth the watch alone. Must see.