Back to IndieWire

Three Reasons Why Critics Are Attacking ‘Selma’ (BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEOS)

Three Reasons Why Critics Are Attacking 'Selma' (BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEOS)

Inevitably, various experts are attacking the historical accuracy of Ava DuVernay’s Christmas hit “Selma.” They’re suggesting that the movie set in 1965 in the thick of the Civil Rights movement turns President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) into the villain of the piece. This is not really true–he’s more of an obstacle for Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) getting what he wants sooner rather than later: the Voting Rights Act. 

READ MORE: David Oyelowo on How Late-Breaking “Selma” Found Its Time

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.” 

READ MORE: Ava DuVernay Rides the “Selma” Surge

Here are three reasons why critics are going after “Selma”:

1. Opportunism.
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?

Critics include Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, who wrote in Politico that the film was trying to “bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the civil rights movement”; Johnson’s former aide Joseph A. Califano Jr., who decried the film’s inaccuracies in The Washington Post; and author Diane McWhorter (“Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution”).

2. “Selma” Threatens the Status Quo.
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.

3. “Selma” is Gaining Traction in the Oscar Race.
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. 

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged , , ,