‘Selma’: Recognizing yesterday is today

Jan 16, 2015 by

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Last night I went to see Selma, and I was absolutely enthralled. The artistry was beautiful. The actors authentic. The lines soul stirring. When the credits began to roll, I felt as if I had just been through a weeklong revival. I was exhausted and full, convicted and encouraged, reeling and rooted.

common-in-selmaI won’t recount the events of the movie here. I won’t spoil any scenes. Although, I really, really want to, I won’t give away any of the incredibly thoughtful and relevant lines of the movie either. Today all I want to do is be honest about how I hope all viewers of Selma will recognize that yesterday is today.

I hope that viewers will recognize not how relevant its themes are, but how close its issues are. I hope that viewers realize that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the heart of the movie, with its blood, tears, beatings, strength, strategy — was effectively dismantled in 2013 by the Supreme Court who in a 5-4 vote ultimately decided “the country has changed” and therefore protection of the right to vote is no longer necessary. I hope viewers realize that the celebration at the end of this movie, the uplifting moment, the fulfillment of King’s declaration “truth is marching on” is now a deflated balloon.

I hope that viewers connect the police brutality in the movie to the police brutality still taking place today. I hope that viewers connect the easy way with which black bodies were tossed in jail cells to the ridiculous numbers still being rounded up today. I hope that King’s proclamation of the dignity of the black body is easily connected to the trending social media tag, #blacklivesmatter. I hope the distance is closed. I hope the strategy, the rationalization, the justification for keeping black bodies oppressed is obvious. I hope the blank faces of hatred, of indifference, of the thirst for power, the desire to “keep black bodies in their place” look eerily familiar. I hope viewers realize that one by one black bodies are still being beaten in the streets.

I hope viewers leave theaters feeling called to open their eyes. Called to know about the NAACP bombing (and the many that have occurred since the Civil Rights Movement). Called to know about voting suppression. Called to know about incarceration rates. Called to understand systemic poverty. Called to take a stand against police brutality. Called to write and march and demonstrate and resist and stand and preach and sing for the sake of justice.

There were a lot of wonderful moments in this movie. I am incredibly grateful for this gift from director Ava DuVernay. You cannot leave the theater without feeling immense gratitude for the women and men who risked everything for justice.

I hope we will refuse to squander their gifts to us. I hope we realize that yesterday is today.

Now go see this film. Be inspired.

Austin Channing Brown works speaking, training, facilitating dialogue or planning strategies in reconciliation. She is the multicultural ministry specialist at Willow Creek Community Church’s Chicago Campus. This first appeared on her blog, austinchanning.com.


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