It took me a couple of days to ponder what I was going to write in this blog. Being a gay black man married to a gay white Canadian man watching the film, Selma in a Toronto theatre on one of the coldest days of 2015 (so far), I cried a little for all the people who fought and died for me to have the right to be who I am today.
To say that Selma is required viewing is an understatement. It's phenomenal that in major cities across the United States business people came together to ensure 7th, 8th & 9th graders see the film for free. I recall back in 2006 when 50 Cent was quoted as saying that Oprah's demographic was little ol' white women and how that must have really affected her. She buried the hatchet with him in 2012, but has really put her money where her mouth is. Since his comment, Oprah introduced the common American to Barrack Obama. She's produced important films like The Butler and now Selma.
It's strange to me that so many black people and award shows (as far as giving her an award goes) dislike Oprah. It almost seems like if her name is attached to a project that the Oscars automatically disqualify her efforts. I hope and pray this is not the case this year. Perhaps they are upset with her because she left daytime TV. But she has definitely made a huge impact on American Culture in general. I love that she is doing her part to ensure our history is preserved and shared.
When I think about the history lessons that Public Enemy rapped about in the 80s and how dumbed down the rap game is today, I cry. It saddens me because I don't think that this is where we as black people (especially African Americans) should be. This obsession with The Housewives of Atlanta and World Star Hip Hop is such a distraction from Dr. King's dream. I mean….wouldn't you prefer to watch NeNe & Kenya fighting at a dinner party than understand how our civil rights leaders of the 60s had to walk the fine line that Obama has to walk on a daily basis? (Yes, that was sarcasm).
The entire time I was watching the film I couldn't help but see the parallels between the police brutality of yesteryear and today. Watching the police kill Jimmie Lee Jackson echoed the shooting of Michael Brown or the chokehold of Eric Garner. The more things change the more they stay the same.
But do things have to stay the same? The main point of this march in Selma was the right to vote, but statistics say that most African-Americans don't. Did all those people fight and die for today's black young voters to ignore their right to vote? Did all these people of different races and faiths come together for club promoters to use Martin Luther King Day Weekend for twerk contests?
Back when MLK Weekend came up and I was part of the Tea Dance from 1998-2010, the Sunbeam Sundays team at Escuelita in New York City, we would hold contests to see who could actually recite the "I Have A Dream" speech. We focused on Black History in our trivia. But I think all that has been lost and forgotten. Today's club-goers could care less about the history of their culture. And because much of today's Hip Hop Culture is not engaged in Black History perhaps that's why there are so many British black actors playing African-Americans in these historical pics. I guess that's what seemed weird to me as an African-American watching this film in Canada (where MLK Day is not observed in any official capacity).
My husband and I noticed that the theatre was not packed and didn't have very many black people in it. Probably because the black community here in Toronto are mainly from the Caribbean and feel that this is American history and not theirs. Interesting that the film starts with Dr. King in another country about to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, but his legacy is not celebrated around the world. I find it ironic because the racism that still exists today seeps across the border in many different forms.
I loved Selma! Every detail was exquisite. As far as the casting…..David Oyelowo was Martin Luther King! And Carmen Ejogo embodied Coretta Scott King. Tim Roth had me convinced as George Wallace……all British actors. I hope that David and Carmen both get best actor and actress nominations. I felt happy for Common and John Legend as they won best song at The Golden Globes.
When my husband and I sat down there was a very chatty white couple who sat behind us. I was worried that they were going to talk through the entire film. But from that opening explosion of the four girls who were killed in their church, you could hear a pin drop.
Another thing that occurred to me was my joy that we now have all these historical films like Selma, The Butler, 12 Years A Slave, Get On Up, Ray, Bamboozled and Malcolm X. Remembering a time when there was the us and them films when blacks were not allowed in mainstream films and marveling over daring films like Pinky and Imitation Of Life that took chances by presenting black characters in major roles. And I'd like to applaud Steven Spielberg for making The Colour Purple before embarking on Schindler's List.
Another remarkable thing about Selma is that it actually had some of the real people who were actually there on that day of the march. One in particular was Amelia Boynton Robinson (played in the movie by Lorraine Toussaint who reminds me of Macy Gray for some reason) who was born on August 18th, 1911. Imagine all the things she has seen in her lifetime. All the news of Civil Rights to our first black president……what an amazing journey to call a life. I love the fact that there are still people here who lived our history. In this youth obsessed culture that exist today, nothing compares to the wisdom and experience of someone who was there. We should honor all of our elders.
The other thing that occurred to me that the release of this film is perfect. We need this film more than ever after the turn of events of last year. So many of our black youth clashing with the police in the States. It almost seemed like it was hunting season….all because of the hatred of the fact that a black man was elected into the biggest office in America.
Unfortunately it is not over. It won't even be over when he leaves office because the bar has been set very high. The parallels between the Obamas and the Kings are so apparent throughout the film. The elegance and resilience of Coretta and Michelle make me happy and sad at the same time.
I remember when Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee died. Both marched with Dr. King and were activists for civil rights. That African-American royalty seemed to have lost its shimmer when they passed. Who would replace them? They, th eKings and the Obamas were like the Kennedy(s) to black culture. Who are the people who replace these historical couples? I would say Beyonce and Jay Z would be in line, but her music videos and the video of him slapping some African woman on YouTube might hold them back. If you let Harry Belfonte tell it…..they don't do enough for the black community, but I see the work they do behind the scenes. Slowly they are investing in the future of black culture. Top 5 (the movie), Fela (the Broadway Musical) and giving Christmas gifts to all the kids in The Marcy Projects where he grew up……Jay Z gives back. And say what you will about Beyonce, she handles all of her business with grace. You won't find any videos or tweets of her dissing anyone. So, I guess they are the closest to black royalty in Hip Hop America at the moment.
I hope that everyone goes out to see Selma. It's probably one of the most important films of the past five years. I would say it and 12 Years A Slave are required viewing to get a true grip around what the racial divide is all about in the U.S. today. I don't believe any racist could watch either and not leave with a different perspective of what it is like for the African-American. Shirley Bassey once sang "It's just a little bit of history repeating" and no truer words ever passed anyone's lips.
The free DJ Relentless MLK weekend mix is here.