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Selma: The Greatest Triumph in the Civil Rights Movement

In 2014, Selma was released to theaters to help educate the general population on the Civil Rights Movement and on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This drama/historical film was directed by Ava DuVernay. Selma details the struggle that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to face when he wanted to march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama to protest the fact that African Americans were not be allowed to vote in local, state, or the national election.  However, when the African Americans wanted a peaceful civil rights movement, the African Americans were faced with opposition. New York Times critically acclaimed this movie as “A Triumph.”

As Selma portrays, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement that faced the brunt of the opposition imposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and County Sheriff Jim Clark.  The second most important figure in the opposition was Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was killed for his push to make African Americans have the right to vote which occurred on Bloody Sunday 1965.  As highlighted in the film, these two central figures, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmie Lee Jackson, were the proponents for the African American’s right to vote.

The movie highlighted two people that were the central opponents to African American’s right to vote. The primary opponent against the African American’s right to vote was Lyndon B. Johnson. The other opponent against the African American’s right was The County Sheriff of Selma, Alabama, Jim Clark. Jim Clark was the one who instigated the violence against the African Americans. Jim Clark also was the one who used the most racial slurs in the movie.

This film could have used less racial slurs. However, if the filmmakers, such as DuVernay, uses less racial slurs, it can make it challenging to accurately portray the emotion of the Civil Rights movement during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, the film could have used less racial slurs but it puts into perspective how the African Americans were treated during the Civil Rights Movement.

 Racial slurs were used in the movie to point out the fact that the Caucasian Americans were hurting and stirring violence among the community of African Descent. One of the most momentous moments of the movie is the portrayal of Bloody Sunday of 1965. On Bloody Sunday of 1965, as seen portrayed in Selma, Jimmie Lee Jackson, a civil rights activist, was murdered by State Trooper Fowler due to the fact that the racial slurs divided between the African Americans and the Caucasian Americans . This stirred anger in the hearts of the African Americans. When Caucasian Americans use racial slurs, it can stir violence between the African Americans and the Caucasian Americans.  

The movie poses the question is “If racial slurs stir violence, why are we not outlawing movies that help educate the general population on the civil rights movements because it uses racial slurs?” The American Government should not outlaw movies, like Selma, because it helps the general public know what happened during the Civil Rights Movement. The government should not outlaw racial slurs within historical accurate movies, because it would infringe on Selma’s authenticity. Therefore, racial slurs give the viewers an accurate portrayal of what it was like to be an African American during the Civil Rights Movement, however citizens should not use racial slurs in society today, because it is degrades the African Americans and is ethically wrong to use them.

The movie also poses another question, “Does the states have the ability to stop the civil rights movement or does that fall under the regime of the national government?” The Movie answers the question in two ways. First, it answers the question by the court case of SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) v. The State of Alabama. Second, the National government should have stepped in before the Civil Rights Movement got violent.

First, as portrayed in the movie, the court case of SCLC v. the State of Alabama made it clear that the states cannot stopped the right to free speech because it infringes on the rights of the African American. This court case proved that States do not have the right to restrict the fundamental rights of the citizens of African descent. Therefore, this court case was the foundation that allowed the African Americans under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to walk the historic march from Selma to the Capitol of Alabama. Since this is the case, States do not have the right to restrict the right to march in protest to a law unless the protest is in direct violation of the United States Constitution.

Second, The National Government should have stepped in before the Civil Rights Movement got violent. However, Lyndon B. Johnson declined the opportunity to protect the citizens. Lyndon B. Johnson basically said to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he wanted to combat poverty and have a PR campaign on combating poverty instead of furthering the rights of African Americans’ right to vote. Eventually, a couple weeks after Lyndon B. Johnson declined his opportunity, an outbreak of violence occurred in the innocent little town of Selma, Alabama.

Further, the Civil Rights Activists, as portrayed in Selma, were not violent, it was the County Sheriff and the Government that started the violence in the little town of Selma, Alabama. In one moment of the movie, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to the president that Whites, who killed four African American Girls, are set freed by all white juries, all white judges, and all white prosecutors because African Americans are declined to serve on the jury because the African Americans have to be registered to vote. Therefore, it is the County Sheriff and government who instigated the violence in the little town of Selma, Alabama, not the Civil Rights Activists.

After the outburst at Selma, as portrayed in the movie, Johnson called the African Americans right to vote as “The most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible wall which imprison men because they are different from other men” (Johnson, “Remarks”). President Johnson was an antagonist at the beginning of Selma and went to becoming a protagonist of the Civil Rights Movement at the end of the movie. President Johnson came from combating the poverty to ensuring the African Americans the right to vote.

Therefore, Selma, a drama/historical film, tells the historical account of the historic march and how the Johnson administration did nothing to alleviate the racial tension. To captivate the attention of President Johnson towards racial tensions, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to make the historic march to the Capitol of Alabama. Through the media involvement of showcasing the violence inflicted on the African Americans during the standoff on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the historic Speech after the African Americans marched to the Capitol of Alabama, Johnson was allowed to make the right decision to alleviate the racial tension by instituting the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The Civil Rights proponents were at the Oval office witnessing President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  

Selma has several key themes. The first theme, which was portrayed in the movies is the theme of Equality. No matter the hardship everyone, including African Americans, women, and all the rest of the people, have the equal right to vote, the equal right to free speech, and the equal right to religious freedom guaranteed to them through the U.S. Constitution. The final theme is that of Limited Government. No government can take away these fundamental rights deemed to the African Americans. Therefore, the film, Selma, helps citizens take away some key political topics (i.e. the Civil Rights Movement, state authority, federal authority, the ethical and moral dilemma of using racial slurs, limited government, and equal rights for the African Americans), and helps educate the general public on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Since Selma expresses these key political topics, Selma is the greatest triumph for Civil Rights Movement because the film details the historical march from Selma, Alabama to the Capitol of Alabama led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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