Films like Selma are crucially important, especially given the ongoing struggles against institutionalised racism by African-American communities which have been hitting the headlines with depressing regularity in recent months. They rightly honour the sacrifices made in the past to ensure great strides were made towards civil rights, and they highlight what still needs to be done today, both showing how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Sometimes this sense of noble purpose can make such films difficult to criticise, but without doubt some are more successful than others. Selma is unquestionably one of the better examples, a powerful examination of Martin Luther King Jr’s dignified response to racial brutality brought to life with a strong central performance and a remarkably assured directorial flourish.

David Oyelowo is a brave man to tackle such an iconic figure, and he does a superb job of conveying the unbridled strength within Dr King, as well as his almost frail humanity in his more private, reflective moments. The thrilling sense of history in motion is also vividly rendered by Ava DuVernay’s direction, who completely nails the symbolic importance of the real-life events without ever turning it into a history lecture. Much has been written about how both were ignored by the Academy Award nominations, but while there is some sympathy with Oyelowo (in a strong field this year, many other fine performances went unrecognised such as Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel), the real snub was with DuVernay, who surely deserved to be the first African-American woman nominated for directing (and only the fifth woman of any kind).

An important, and in the current climate essential, reminder of the importance of civil rights protests9
David Oyelowo's measured and finely-balanced portrayal of a 20th century icon8
Ava DuVernay's masterful directorial control9
A solid screenplay structure that perhaps could have been a bit more adventurous7
The soundtrack and score contributions from Common and John legend9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

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