This past week, my friends and I saw the movie “Selma” (now in theaters near you!). The movie is based on the marches for voting rights during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. These marches, which spanned from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, were led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and ultimately encouraged the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The movie is directed by Ava DuVernay, the first Black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award and the first Black woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival. While the original script was written by Paul Webb, a British white man, a woman of color was wisely chosen to direct the film.
“Selma” is a beautiful film with a triumphant message: When we organize and unite in nonviolent protest, we can create a significant difference in this country. We can work against racial injustice and prevail with new civil rights, such as the Voting Rights Act.
Yet with some basic knowledge of American current events, there is also a deeper, more jarring message coded throughout the film: Selma is now.
I am a white female. I am an ally of the movement and cannot claim these struggles as my own. But the movement for justice among all races — that is everyone’s political issue. Silence is violence, and we must learn from the evolution of movements that have come before us. I write this article because “Selma” reminded me that we have not come this far just to historicize the Civil Rights Movement while we munch on popcorn and slurp Coca-Cola (not that popcorn and Coke are bad ideas). Rather, we must use it as fuel to continue our (painfully) slow but steady evolution towards equality.
As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but relate so many of the scenes to modern-day battles in the fight for equality. Even the most brutal of scenes in “Selma” seemed to trigger the thought of some modern struggle. As protestors in the movie were gassed, beaten, whipped and just generally violently attacked by police officers on the road to Montgomery, who wasn’t thinking of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and all of the people of color publicized in the papers recently that have been attacked or killed by law enforcement officers? Peaceful protests against police brutality in Berkeley, California were met with even more police brutality. A man who honked his horn at police officers blocking his driveway was beaten and tased.
The current criminal justice system has been called the new Jim Crow. It has been compared in many logical ways to the systemic oppression of slavery. The “war against drugs” has sent millions into the complex, most of them people of color. We continue desperate efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools are legally segregating due to income disparities and the increasing wealth gap.
We are still fighting our way from Selma to Montgomery. We are still fighting for the safety of Black children on the street. We speak of the nuances of white privilege and the invisible backpack, and this is all very important and true. But there is also the matter of the visible anvil resting heavily on everyone’s back, one that forces us to deal with matters of life and death, slavery and freedom, imprisonment and justice.
We have come a long way, and that should not be denied or forgotten. But many of our institutional forms of oppression have simply taken another form. The fight is not over, and while we ponder the real ingredients in the artificially buttered popcorn of our dark movie theater, we must also ponder the “Selma” of today. Selma is now.
Maris Harmon can be reached at email@example.com.