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Monday, 2 March 2015

Introducing the Film Selma

Brian Ward

A screenshot from an original newsreel of the
1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights.
It's always a nerve-wracking experience for a professional historian to watch a feature film or television drama that purports to depict real events, particularly if it’s on a topic where we like to claim some expertise. Will the drama get the basic facts and chronology right?; will the on-screen characterisations ring true?; will the film get the clothes and hair right?

As a historian of the US South and the civil rights movement, all those thoughts were rushing through my mind as I watched the Oscar-nominated Selma for the first time, especially knowing that I had been asked to deliver introductions to the film in Newcastle at special screenings at the Star and Shadow and Tyneside cinemas.

As I explained to those audiences, the good news is that Selma is a powerful, often inspirational film that only occasionally plays fast and loose with the historical record or offers up dubious interpretations of events. The film recounts the story of the historic campaign for Voting Rights in an Alabama city where a mix of white violence, intimidation, and legal chicanery meant that in 1965 only 383 of a potential black electorate of more than 15,000 were registered to vote. A series of nonviolent demonstrations met with brutal, sometimes lethal white resistance from local law enforcement agencies and vigilante groups. The protests culminated in the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, when state troopers, some of them mounted on horseback, beat and tear-gassed marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they tried to walk to Montgomery, the state capital, to protest before Alabama governor and segregationist icon George Wallace. A march two days later led by Martin Luther King was aborted on what became known as Turnaround Tuesday, but a third march, attracting as many as 25,000 supporters from around the nation, eventually made it Montgomery. read more>>>

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