SYNOPSIS: This poignant drama chronicles Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Reel Rating: 5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
Released in Theaters: Jan. 9, 2015
Best for Ages: 13+
Genre: Drama, History
Runtime: 122 minutes
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Common
Official Site: Selma

REVIEW: I was just a wee lass when the march from Selma to Montgomery took place in 1965, so it’s wonderful to see this historic event brought to life on the big screen. From the footage I’ve seen of Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo really becomes him in this film.

“Selma” follows the three months that take place between Martin Luther King, Jr. (Oyelowo) accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in December of 1964 and the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march for voters’ rights in March of 1965.

King, along with fellow activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, want President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass legislation protecting the voting rights of African Americans in the South. Johnson, however, is more interested in poverty issues and asks King to wait.

With help from John Lewis (Stephan James) of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), King begins to organize the march, which turns violent as Alabama State Troopers beat the marchers as they attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Meanwhile, King’s efforts are weakened by the FBI, who reveals King’s infidelities to his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). It’s not glossed over, which helps to make this film an honest look at King’s life. He may not have been the best husband, but he was a stellar leader of the civil rights movement.

Helmed by writer-director Ava DuVernay, “Selma” details a very specific time in King’s life, which I think helps audiences to connect with the story, the man, and the historic significance of the event. Oyelowo, who’s perfectly cast as the civil rights leader, skillfully captures his speech rhythms and philosophy of “negotiate, demonstrate, resist” to move the country forward.

Parts of the film are brutal and grim, with white supremacists beating the nonviolent protestors to death, in some cases. Oprah Winfrey is especially poignant as Annie Lee Cooper, a woman who’s unable to register to vote and who’s beaten more than once but never backs down.

Other standouts include Common as James Bevel, Wendell Pierce as Reverend Hosea Williams (he hasn’t aged a day since “The Wire”), Stephen James as John Lewis, Tim Roth as Gov. George Wallace, Alessandro Nivola as John Doar, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Fred Gray.

A beautiful script, excellent performances, and gripping subject matter make “Selma” one of the best films ever made about the civil rights movement. I hope it’s shown in history classes across the country.

At the New York premiere of “Selma,” Reel Life With Jane writer Paula Schwartz chatted with the stars on the red carpet. I especially love what Oprah Winfrey had to say about the power of movies to affect social change.

“Movies allow you to think about what’s been done before and allow you to see – in this movie, in particular – what’s come before, and to me, it’s really about the rigorous discipline of peaceful protest and what strategy does when you know what you want.”


THE DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):

Sex/Nudity: Couples embrace and kiss. In one scene, Coretta listens to a recording of two people having sex, presumably to make her think it’s her husband and a mistress. Coretta and Martin discuss his infidelity.

Violence/Gore: White supremacists terrorize and attack black marchers with sticks, guns, whips and bats. Police use tear gas and batons to beat non-violent protestors. A church is blown up, killing several girls. A white clergyman is beaten to death. References to lynchings and the murders of Medgar Evars, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy. A non-violent black protestor is beaten to death and taken to the coroner’s office.

Profanity: Infrequent use of “f–k,” “s–t,” “bulls–t,” “ass,” and “goddamn.” Frequent use of “n—-r,” “nigras,” “negroes,” “coon,” “white n—-r,” and “bastard.”

Drugs/Alcohol: None.

Which Kids Will Like It? Kids 13 and older who like historical films.

Will Grownups Like It? “Selma” is an excellent film – great acting, story and production.

One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Jane Boursaw is the film critic and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Contact her at and check out the shop for fresh editorial content.