Last night, Amanda and I took the whole family—eyes a-rolling and smartphones in hand, to see Selma in commemoration of MLK Day. And for two hours we were all gripped. There are all kinds of discussions and online complaints about what was added or emphasized or neglected in the story of the conflict, marches, and violence in that period of the Civil Rights Movement. But honestly, they were beside the point, and I think one of the real strengths of Selma the Movie was that the decisions Ava DuVernay made ultimately cast great relief on the biggest of the issues. It’s a big, broad, statement movie, and it works.
One of the most powerful scenes was when President Johnson appeared before both houses of Congress to urge them to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The kids understood extremely intensely what had gone into getting the President into that room to make that speech.
As we were leaving the theater, one of the kids mentioned that this evening was going to be the State of the Union Address. They know that Amanda and I watch it every year, talking to the television, keeping score of the points the president makes (ANY president) and when he falls flat. How often the Speaker or the VP falls asleep, how often one side or the other stands and claps. But this time, we’re watching a little differently, thinking about how inconceivable it would have been to both the majority of the marchers in Selma in 1965, and the people within and without politics trying to stop them, that a president who looks like Barack Obama could be giving a State of the Union Address.
Now it’s time for us to go watch. We’ll get back to publishing next week.