Americans have long been surpassed by other countries in education, health care, income equality, broadband speed, craziest mayors, and Godzilla safety, with our great nation now only leading the world in shooting sprees, and size and magnitude of buffets. And now there’s another thing Americans are no longer the best at: convincingly portraying Americans.
Selma, a film dramatizing the pivotal protest march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that galvanized nationwide support for the Civil Rights movement, has been rounding out its cast of American historical figures, mostly with actors from across the pond. British thespian and rising star David Oyelowo—no stranger to historical drama, with roles in Lincoln, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Last King Of Scotland, and documentary Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes on his résumé—will portray Dr. King, while fellow Brits Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth will play President Lyndon Johnson and Alabama governor George Wallace, respectively.
Roth’s Wallace will be (spoiler alert) the villain, as the staunchly segregationist governor ordered state troopers to beat peaceful protestors in King’s 1965 voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery. (At the time, one county in Alabama was only 19 percent white and didn’t have a single African-American registered voter). After two attempts at marching were beaten back by local law enforcement, Johnson sent the U.S. Army to protect King and his compatriots, who then completed the march. By that time, images of peaceful protestors being savagely attacked had shocked the nation, and the public outrage at Wallace’s treatment of the marchers—not to mention the state’s voting rights system—prompted Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act, which finally guaranteed all Americans the right to vote regardless of race… at least until 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law, and Texas and Mississippi immediately reinstated Jim Crow-era voter ID laws. So, well done, America.
Selma is one of at least two MLK-related projects being produced by Oprah Winfrey, who is also developing a six-hour miniseries with David Simon about King’s life for HBO. Selma’s director, Ava DuVernay, was the first African-American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for her 2012 feature Middle of Nowhere, which also starred Oyelowo.
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