I liked Selma.
I enjoyed it. I wasn’t moved in the way that 1”2 Years a Slave” moved me. I did not get up and cheer at the end, nor was I moved to tears at its beginning. Ava DuVernay did a good job in the movies direction and perspective. I loved seeing the characters fill up the screen. King always looked and felt weighted. Even in private moments, his narrow shoulders always seemed heavy. The ensemble cast was amazing. Almost too amazing. I spent several telling minutes racking my brain trying to remember where I had seen, Tim Roth, the actor that played Alabama governor George Wallace (I remembered on the ride home it was “The Hulk”). The movie was fine. The acting great. The story, however, familiar, was told in a fresh way.
But shortly after the movie began, I realized that it was a lesson plan unfolding in front of me: a lesson plan for a movement. Teachable moments that can be applied to help direct change today. So many people feel a desire to do something when tragic events happen, but do not know where to begin. Here is the lessons from the movie that can be applied, as needed, for whatever activism you may have with any part of your world. Selma: The Primer.
1. A senseless act was not the beginning, but it was an accelerator
The tragic deaths of Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, the four little girls who died in Birmingham, was not the beginning of the movement in Selma, but it drew attention to the problems of Alabama. It is with that lens that look at some of the tragic headlines of today. Police brutality did not begin in Ferguson or New York, but it received the national attention, which shifted momentum from apathy to movement. Every senseless act of today that happens adds more momentum and people to the movement. A lesson to be drawn from Selma is the work between the senseless that sustained the movement. There are preparations to be made, decisions on direction and strategies to be developed.
Lesson from Selma: The tragedy isn’t the totality of the movement, but it can be the beginning to long lasting change
2. Disagreement is a part of progress.
The civil rights movement was never monolithic. There were at least five different groups present at the march on Selma. Everyone had a different belief system, approach – a different truth about how to best help the people. In the end, it took a visionary to sit them all down and it took leaders to direct their group to follow, despite the differences. Criticism is cool as long as it doesn’t become a distraction. Paying attention to criticism can get the movement off focus. Letting criticism fuel your passion, can mean progress. Let Oprah say what she has to say. Let your outrage move you to more than a 200, 140 character tweets about why you are mad.
Lesson from Selma: Disagree with the message, but don’t start a fight with the messenger. Remember who your enemy is and stay focused on the real goal at hand.
3. Selma isn’t a timeline. It is a moment in time.
The movie Selma is not a complete story of the civil rights movement. It is a screenwriter and directors perspective, as it should be. No one at the moment, could have known how long it would take to get voting rights for the people of Alabama, or the cost in lives and security. It took years of persuading through sermons and town meetings to get as many people as they did to attempt to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge the first time. And when they were turned around, every person present had to take an account of their own soul and because it was televised, people who became witness were held accountable as well.
Lesson from Selma: Just because the outcome was not what was planned, does not mean that it cannot be a positive part of the purpose. Moments are only final, if no one shows up for the next one.
5. The Presidency hasn’t changed, even if the color of the President has
People are quick to correct how Selma projected Lyndon Johnson’s position in the movie Selma. Arguing the complexities of having to rage war with its own country and how difficult, even if it was righteous, that decision was to make. Martin Luther King Jr’s difficulty in having a direct line to the Oval Office and a responsibility to the truth of the cause was equally as complicated and yet, there was no waivering in his position. Our first African American president is finds himself in the same war, 50 years later, and President Obama is on the edge of taking a stand against, unrighteousness, in the same way President Johnson did. President Obama’s decision to send Eric Holder, and not be present at Ferguson; decision to not publicly criticizing unlawful action, choosing instead to wait and see how the courts would rule; and deciding to let justice rest with the state that has unfairly marginalized its citizen for years, looked a lot like Johnson’s depiction on screen. When the President was white, it was confusing how a President elected by the people could choose to watch while its citizen’s security was stolen from them. Now that the President is African American, that same view is heartbreaking.
Lesson from Selma: “You are dismantling your legacy with each passing day. You said wait and we can’t”.
6. Racism will never be eradicated, but it can be put to rest.
To change the hearts of every American to be able to see racism for what it is, when it is covert and subtle, is the work between God and His creation. To change laws, influence lawmakers, to elect fair leadership, that is the work of a movement. What a person feels is so subjective, which is why it is hard to prosecute under the civil rights act as it stands. But the law has always been able to judge intention and that judgment comes directly from the act itself. The people have to help the courts decipher what is the intention of racism and what that looks like. It was done to secure gay rights. It was done to secure the voting rights. It must applied to our police and the justice system. Is the intent of the law enforcement to marginalize its citizens? Is the intent of law enforcement to be judge and jury over its citizen or simply to keep order and peace. We are marching for the same reasons, because racism has never been held accountable for the crimes its intention commits.
Lesson from Selma: Quantify the intent of racism and people will be more hesitant to commit crimes from it.
Selma showed the many layers necessary for the movement. Those that marched and those that made sandwiches. There were those that financed the movement and those that organized it. Playing a role, no matter how small, made an impact to progress. I say sacrifice because Selma was successful because people gave even when they had nothing to give. We have so much to give and do not want to sacrifice.
Lesson from Selma: Its okay to do more than what makes you feel comfortable. In fact, in order for there to be success in a movement, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
8. Study Malcolm
The cameo appearance of Malcolm X in Selma reminds us that there is more to the Malcolm X’s legacy than even the epic movie by Spike Lee could tell even in three hours. Malcolm’s appearance in Selma, his speech at the church, his choice to be the “outside agitator” and a face of opposition in sacrifice to the greater good of the civil rights movement, is an exceptional show of character. Malcolm’s personal growth and search for truth and to be ostracized from familiar circles is a coming of age story that everyone should know. “Eat, Pray Love” had nothing on Malcolm’s pilgrimage, no offense Elizabeth.
Lesson from Selma: Just because you have elected a truth doesn’t mean it is the only truth. Great leaders evolve so movements can too.
9. Coretta and King: A love story, should be a 8 week mini-drama
Forget about the reality shows, the relationship between Coretta and Martin showed in Selma was keeping it 100! We all know that it had to be more than hard to have a marriage with a man that had been called to serve selflessly to a movement, but I don’t think we could have ever imagined so many things were trying to put their marriage asunder. Coretta and Martin not only had to face normal marriage problems (job choices, children, finances), the federal government was trying to break them up! This love story needs its own screen space.
Lesson from Selma: Marriage is a movement.
10. Take an elder. Tell a child.
I know our children are use to seeing violence, but I think in a child’s mind the violence of Selma might overshadow, not punctuate, the point of the movie. Stories had more impact to me when they involved my uncle or my mother. I could relate to how it made them feel or what it put them through and I think the lessons of Selma are no different. Even if you do not have family members alive to share their stories, take someone to see Selma that does and then introduce them and their stories of the era to your children. Hear their questions about what happened and their miseducation and corrected it. Jews protect their culture because their children were given the stories of their oppression as on-going education. It is never a sense of shame, but of survival.
Lesson from Selma: Our history is living history. Make this era of history leap from the pages and live in your homes. Your children should be able to recite their family legacies as easily as they can their social studies lesson.
Have you seen Selma? What lessons did you take away from the movie? Share the “Selma: The Primer” with your friends.