Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

Selma: Exactly what a biopic should be

Snubbed by the Baftas and under-appreciated by the Oscars, Ava Duvernay’s dramatisation of a chapter in the life of Martin Luther King is powerful but not preachy, says Yosra Osman.

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David Oyelowo as Dr King in Selma. Picture by 20th Century Fox.

I may as well start with the entirely obvious facts: Selma is a remarkable drama which deserved more Oscar nominations.

Given the sheer number of biopics we are subjected to every year, it surprises me that I can’t think of a film, pre-Selma, to give Martin Luther King the big screen treatment he deserves. There have been many projects ‘in the works’, but he remains strangely under-represented.

It’s a good thing Selma’s come first. It is what a biopic on an important historical figure should be: powerful but not preachy. No one wants to be lectured by a film and thankfully there’s none of that here.

Passionate and involving, Selma really works in portraying the brutality and injustice of 1960s America and the fight for civil rights. Within the first 10 minutes, four children are killed in the atrocious bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. You’re thrown into the era with such force, you can feel every punch, every insult and every tear.

It’s a gritty piece of work. In choosing to portray one particular string of events in Dr King’s life, Ava Duvernay turns what could have been a hyperbolic, melodramatic film into something intense, effective and very real. He isn’t portrayed as the perfect hero; he is troubled, he makes mistakes and he is relatable… with all the heroic bits added in, of course.

Playing Dr King must be no mean feat and David Oyelowo completely transforms himself, playing the civil rights leader with real authority and excellently capturing his mannerisms. The entire cast are brilliant, but Oyelowo takes on a tough task in carrying the film and succeeds. I was shocked he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar before I saw the film, I’m frankly horrified after.

(Dear Academy, you’re trying to tell me that Lincoln deserved 12 nominations a couple of years ago yet you only give Selma two? Really?)

Whatever the Academy thinks, Selma is a really important film now more than ever. Events in Ferguson aren’t mentioned until John Legend’s closing song, but you can’t help but feel the relevance throughout. It may not be subtle, but it’s effective.

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions