On Wednesday 6th May, the US Embassy convened academics, several institutions, community workers, organisations working in line with the United Nations Decade (2015-2024) of People of African Descents, secondary school pupils and accompanying teachers to the screening of the movie SELMA  at M Ciné Trianon.  I had the pleasure to watch the movie. It is inspiring, moving and thought provoking. It runs for two hours and seven minutes. It  successfully sticks to telling the story and stays clear of romanticising the events or any other storylines that could divert from the main narrative.
Film critics describe SELMA as the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights for Black citizens. In the first scenes of SELMA, Annie Lee Cooper, who is played by the film’s producer, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote in the state of Alabama. But a white official refuses to put her name down on the voters’ roll because she is not white, despite having all the required documents. Martin Luther King (starred David Oyelowo) together with fellow civil rights activists James Bevel, Hosea Williams and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee led the epic march from Selma of the Alabama State in the Southeastern region of the US to Montgomery which culminated in President Johnson  signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. This was one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. We can draw some observations from the film.
The struggle against racial discrimination is based on civil rights. Martin Luther King and fellow civil rights activists did not campaign against the Whites but fought for equal rights as citizens of the United States. But at the same time the civil rights issue was not colour blind. It was a race issue leading to racial prejudice. The film also beautifully deconstructs the White bourgeois poverty discourse of President Johnson. The scene is in the office of the US President. Both King and Johnson are in a tête-à-tête. King pleads for equal voting rights for the Blacks but President Johnson tries to win King’s sympathy by saying sincerely that the priority of his government is to conduct ‘war on poverty’ and King just needs to be patient for the voting rights which will come with time. But King insists politely but firmly on the right to vote which is the right to dignity, freedom of choice and agency. It cannot wait.
The film portrays interestingly the specificity of the civil rights movement in the US. Conversely to the French ‘laïcité’ citizenship discourse, the US movement is underpinned by a Christian world view of the Black Churches. Inevitably Martin Luther King, Jr, who is a pastor like his other fellow activists influence the movement. His sermons are fiery and make mountains move. Leading the march of Selma, King stops at the Edmund Pettus bridge. He kneels down, recollects in prayer, rises up and retreats. The crowd follows him. King and the marchers did not cross the bridge. Many of his fellow activists rebukes him for having retreated while the crowd comprising Black and Whites were ready to face the brutal force of the police. But reason and faith helped him to take this decision on the spur of the moment. Finally, we see King the visionary, the activist, the strategist, the pastor and the leader, but the film also shows King’s strenuous relationship with his wife, fellow civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo. King’s marriage takes strain. We are shown how he tries to devote his time both to the movement and to his family.