Various people are challenging the veracity of the way the film portrays Johnson’s relationships with both King and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. DuVernay responded heatedly on Twitter (which she deploys expertly–her use of social media should be examined by every filmmaker who wants to reach their fans, friends and followers); that Selma was Johnson’s idea was “jaw dropping and offensive” to the “black citizens who made it so.”
Here are three reasons why critics are going after “Selma”:
He who attacks a popular trending topic draws traffic and attention for their own book, library, museum, etc. If you are an expert on Martin Luther King or LBJ, what better way to grab the spotlight for yourself and your product than to attack a popular movie?
Basically, white men are accustomed to a world order that revolves around them. It is profoundly disturbing to many in the patriarchal establishment to be presented with a revisionist narrative in which white men are not at the center of the action, driving the forces of history. They are not used to people of color or women being front and center as vital contributors to change.
DuVernay made two key alterations in her revision of Paul Webb’s “Selma” script. She made the story more about an active and assertive Martin Luther King, who pushed forward his Civil Rights agenda and goaded the president into doing something he wasn’t yet ready to do. History books confirm this. And she added women to the Civil Rights movement. They were always there. But not so much in Webb’s script.
Now that “Selma” is gaining on the Oscar frontrunners, expect a few destructive viral memes to enter the conversation in an attempt to slow it down. This is one. Challenging historical truth is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Sometimes it works (“Hurricane,” “Amistad,” “Munich,” Zero Dark Thirty”); sometimes it doesn’t (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Lincoln”).
In this case, controversy will only keep “Selma” in the media and drive more people to check out the film themselves. And while they are still catching up and filling out their Oscar ballots, most Academy voters are savvy enough to see through these attempts to slow “Selma” down.