i just saw selma, and i'm going to express a negative assessment. but first, the production design is excellent; it really gives that feel of the deep south in the '60s. and it is a great and inspiring story, though a bit compromised in its inspiration by the slow or non-pace of racial justice in the decades since.
but there is perhaps too much reverence for king to make a realistic movie about him. it is hard to escape the impression that the actors were cast as look-alikes, and that in itself might make you a little suspicious; they were perhaps not chosen for the excellence of their acting. but it's hard to tell, really, because the script and direction and even make-up makes them like wax figures of king, andrew young, john lewis (that actor was a cut above, though, even if he was partly cast on the basis of the size of his nostrils), coretta scott king, hosea williams, and so on.
there are a few half-hearted attempts at humanization, but they are...insincere, i think. perfunctory. everyone talks in extremely written complete sentences: they simply emit inspiring speeches at one another all day, which does not actually constitute dialogue. they don't talk like human beings. when a tear flows down the face of a character, it's like a miraculous but hieratic crying icon of mary or something. this turns the whole movie into quite the didactic little history lesson rather than a real human drama. honestly, it's also a lesson that is taught incessantly to everyone already in every school in america, a million television shows, etc etc, a lesson you cannot have avoided on a thousand previous occasions. and i don't think that david oyelowo as king quite brings off the electrifying preaching, admittedly an extraordinarily difficult task. but truly, there is no reason to pay money to see david oyelowo deliver king's speeches, because there are recordings of the real ones.
on the other hand, i also don't think, as some have asserted, that johnson is portrayed too negatively. i'm glad they included a little malcolm x, but lord i wish they'd shown a bit of his speech in selma: they just showed other people talking about it. anyway, i wouldn't have nominated it for any academy awards except in set design, art direction, and such.
oprah produced the thing and cast herself as annie lee cooper. she is repeatedly beaten. now, watching civil rights protesters getting beaten fills me with rage. but watching stupefyingly banal self-esteem entrepreneurs/billionaires get beaten, which was quite how i experienced those scenes: well, i don't actually straight condone it, but i wouldn't say i take absolutely no pleasure in it either. go back to inspiring us by your yoyo diets or whatever, sweetie.
here's another little problem. basically, a film about king is above criticism, expecially if you're a white person. that is a formula for making and selling bad movies. but the thing is a mega-million cash franchise produced by oprah winfrey, for god's sake. nothing anything like that can be above criticism. you can't be required to give academy awards on the grounds that someone played king or whatever it may be. just because your gigantic movie is about king doesn't mean, for example, that it couldn't have been better in many filmic or human dimensions. i sort of think a lot of people are pretending to think selma is a good movie to avoid being racists.