When rejecting an invitation, according to Amy Sedaris, one simply says, “I can’t come.” You don’t add a reason. “Anything after ‘because’ is bullshit,” according to Sedaris. That’s what I think of when I see the dearth of nominations for Selma in the Oscars. There weren’t more because the movie didn’t play the game, send out screeners, open earlier, deal with political backlash well. Frankly, my dear, anything after because is bullshit.

 

I have already seen Selma twice and I’m trying to figure out when I will see it at least a third and maybe a fourth time. I am not much of a moviegoer. I think I saw three movies last year. Selma, though, is a big screen phenomenon. There is a nuance in the faces, in the looks, in the gritted teeth and the beads of sweat that will be missed on a small screen. Furthermore, there is a public sensitivity to the directing that is palpable when one is sitting in proximity to other bodies, hearing the gasps, sighs, cheers, and tears.

 

David Oyelowo is as powerful an actor as I have ever seen. The movie was not permitted, for various reasons, to use any of the actual speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The script, then, had to be written for the power, syntax, and deliver of one of the greatest preachers in American history. Oyelowo delivers like the prophet Dr. King was. In the scene where Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo, confronts him about infidelity, one thousand emotions play across his face, before any words are spoken. I haven’t seen all most of the “Best Actor” nominees, but I am not really open to hearing why Oyelowo wasn’t chosen. Anything after “because” is bullshit.

 

There has been quite the furor over the portrayal of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the movie. Those concerned with his legacy argue that the movie portrays him as obstructionist to the voting rights of blacks in a way that is unfair to his true feelings and his true actions. LBJ was the consummate politician of our time. Generally known as an SOB and someone who made deals to get things done, he comes across as profoundly true to character in the film.

 

While it is certainly true that LBJ was a powerful force in advancing the paperwork and legality of civil rights in this country, it is also true that he did not do all the legwork or showing up that was possible. So the movie didn’t make LBJ into the savior figure that some want him to be. Too bad. There are plenty of other films of historical figures that aren’t letter perfect to character, motivation, and/or action. Should we destroy them all? I just want a one-word answer, since anything after “because” is bullshit.

 

The reality of Selma that sticks in my head is how King and others grapple with the reality that the response to the non-violent protests means some people will likely be killed. Each of the leaders is weighing in the balance the lives of those who will come, who will march, who will be beaten, with the denied full civil and human rights of an entire group of people. Children, elders, and bright young adults will be slaughtered out of sheer hatred, malice, and fear. The film has some footage of the actual Selma to Montgomery march, in which you see not only the marchers, but white people standing along the sides of the roads- flipping middle fingers, spitting, showing the Confederate flag, screaming. As those faces go by, I can’t help but think, “For shame. There is no explanation. Anything after ‘because’ is bullshit.”

There is something about Selma– about seeing innocent black bodies, beaten and broken in the street. There is something about knowing that the denial of the vote to many people is still ongoing. There is something about seeing the terrorist act of bombing a church and killing four little girls and knowing that no one paid for that crime until years later. There is something about seeing an all-white slate of best actor and actress nominees. There is something about denying the recognition of even a Best Director nomination to Ava DuVernay.

 

These things say that we are not yet post-racial. We are not yet to a place of equality for all Americans. We have not reached the mountaintop. We are still working to overcome.

 

There is a scene in Selma when Dr. King is confronting John Lewis and James Forman, the sons of thunder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He tells them that SNCC is concerned with “raising black consciousness”, but the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is concerned with “raising white consciousness”. This work is not done as long as any body of any color can be and is denied both the actual and the implied rights that are inherent to all American citizens. Until that day, we must stay awake, keep our consciousness elevated, and keep our feet marching forward in work of praying with our votes, our dollars, our letters, our sermons, our prayers, our neighbor love, and our rejection of the false idols of Oscar recognition.

 

To those who say “no” to this call, we know what you are. No qualifiers, explanations, or caveats are needed. Anything after “because” is bullshit.

6 thoughts on “Monday Extra: Selma and Excuses

  1. I have just returned from seeing Selma for the first time. And YES to everything you wrote. I am so disappointed in the Academy for passing this film over. I will boycott the award ceremony for that reason. Not that my one little boycott will change anything except I will be living true to my heart. What a powerful film, well written, directed, and acted. The nuances were palpable and perfectly done. The theater was packed, my two friends and I had to sit in the very front row. I was glad it was packed with suburban white and black people, adults and children, to remember this time in our history and consider how much alive racism is today. Thanks, Julia, for offering this.

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  2. Yes, indeed.
    One of the powerful parts of the movie for me, as a white woman, was realizing that but for some accidents of time and place of birth, I could have been one of that sneering, insulting, harassing crowd on the sidelines. Of course, I’d like to imagine I wouldn’t have been, but culture is a powerful thing…which challenges me to be very attentive in my current place and time to what I assume is right or normal that might not be at all.

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  3. I have heard and seen Ava DuVernay on a couple of talk shows now. She actually re-wrote most of the movie once she joined the project. The original writer gets to keep full credit though, because… that’s what his contract says (*bullshit*) She was so gracious about it. I loved hearing her speak about listening to Dr King’s sermons and speeches over and over to figure out how to re-write and keep on target. I have not seen it yet, but will.

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  4. I haven’t seen it, nor will I because there are others I’d like to see more. See, I’m just old enough to have watched the now elders of the UCC walk that bridge with Dr. King. I grew up in a racist suburban community in New England where the first black family was run out of town on a rail and the kids thought it was “fun” to burn a cross on the new music teacher’s lawn. I wrote history papers on King and Malcom X and Brown vs. Board of Ed. I might someday watch it on DVD or TV, but “been there done that….anybody want the hat?”

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    1. Andrea, I’m sure you’re not the only one to feel this way. RevGal Judy Upham was in Selma after the March, working to register people to vote. She was thee with Jonathan M. Daniels, who was martyred in this struggle. Your witness here reminds us that the struggle for civil and human rights was not limited to the Deep South.

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