By Jennifer Chuks.
New on the block is the graphic tale of the three months Martin Luther king Jr spent in the town Selma, Alabama where he continued his campaign for equality, the right to vote for all and restrictions on the voting to be lifted. Preceding are historical films, Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Belle (2013), fully funded produced by Plan B and BFI respectively which have caught not only high ratings but nominations in some of the most prestigious film award ceremonies we have. The prevalence of films based on the gruesome time of slavery and its ripple effect in society are dominating the screens and the award ceremonies. Are these the topics of interest or of sensationalism, or simply is it the time for education.
Selma, shows the struggle of an entire race of people who are nearly 60% of the town. It shows preteen children coming to death at the hands of hate, young men and women not living to see the potential of their prime, both black and white slaughtered. Clergymen and priests alike, standing up for what they believe in and again stand no chance in a town so hell-bent on hatred their will takes them only to a place of anger and abhorrence. The cinematography adds to the drama of the already hair raising speeches of King. Close up camera angles on the reactions of the congregation, sorrow, fear and hope in their eyes. Hands being held in comradery. Strength being rebuilt in a town.
In The Colour Purple (1985), a Harpo Studios production, Oprah plays Sofia, a strong, proud heavy set black mother and wife. Her famous scene of being beaten down by a white police man for protecting her children from politely racist passers-by. Her crime was to refuse a cleaning job, her penalty years in incarceration. This scene reflected the oppression portrayed in the early 1900’s maintained nearly 70 years on as in Selma where she plays the heroic Annie Lee Cooper.
12 years a slave, was an account of the life of Solomon Northup, based on the book written after his ordeal. It is common knowledge slaves of African descent were traded as property for over 400 years, which ended in the USA in 1865. With modern society as it is now, one could only imagine the life a slave would live, not only without any free will, but with the punishments and extreme labour endured until old age or death. Selma is also produced by Plan B, a production company owned by Brad Pitt. His work with his wife Angelina Jolie are examples of using any give, or pull in the industry to highlight awareness of the struggles people are facing all over the world. Together with Harpo Studios, Oprah Winfreys production company for Selma.
Belle was a portrayal of the mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her empathetic aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England, undoubtedly this tale highlights the reality of a situation which was prevalent throughout the years of Slavery and in the years following with prejudices high and tolerance low.
The role of J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI was acknowledged throughout Selma, but his physical presence was limited. History tells us Edgar regarded King as a threat and a menace to society and wanted during the 60’s his removal from power, his freedom of speech removed and inevitably his removal from the earth. Again a biographical portrayal of J. Edgar (2011) shows Leonardo DiCaprio add depth to this character, tying in the events of Martin Luther king, amongst other activists and tyrants which employed the work of the FBI. Recent historical movies also include Lincoln (2012), a well-known supporter of equal right and the abolition of slavery was up for a staggering 12 Oscar nominations.
The film industry retells for those who do not know a history based on the events of reality like Selma and Belle. As well as those stories in books of faith like Noah and Exodus. Film makers, script writers, producers and directors have taken it upon themselves to educate where a curriculum may not have gone. Where general knowledge may not have stretched. Even where age defies acknowledgment of the mistakes of the past.
Selma has heavy brutality to the scenes of violence. Cringe worthy, beyond horror movie gore. Real suffering, real struggles, real sounds of pounding, breaking bones, pleas for help. This writer burst into tears during one such scene, with the realism of the struggle, and the outcome of the victims, my heart bled.
Why do film makers propose to make a movie of such dark, negative content? My answer is because they feel the world is ready to see it. They feel it is a story worth telling. I for one am glad to pay to see the realities of war, the realities of USA racism in the 60’s, the realities of the apartheid. This is all the history we have in the world, the human race bullying and coursing each other into submission of some sort.
What does history teach us? Stop repeating the mistakes? With amazing dramatizations like Selma, being pushed to the forefront of people’s minds, schedules, screens, it can at least remind us that we are one human race. One body of people. One species, the only species who kill each other. History teaches us to love.