(From the Mountain Astrologer blog)
Dr. Martin Luther King, played by David Oyelowo in “Selma,” marches along Selma’s Edmund Pettus bridge for the first march after “Bloody Sunday,” an event that occurred two days earlier and riveted the world’s attention with images of the police brutality against peaceful, unarmed protesters. Now, the marchers, led by Oyelowo’s King, face off against the same state police troopers. Reflecting what did happen in history, the state troopers grandly step aside to let the marchers pass. King kneels in prayer. Everyone alongside and behind him follows suit. Perhaps he kneels, the audience might think, out of gratitude and appreciation, or perhaps to scan the heavens for a sign on whether to move forward. King finishes the prayer, stands up, and moves toward the rear, leading the way back to the church. Most of the crowd seems confused, and the scene in the film that immediately follows is a meeting of mostly younger voices airing their discontent with what looks like King’s utter lack of faith or courage. That day is known by marchers as “Turnaround Tuesday.”
History tells a slightly different story. All of the events of those few days happened as recorded in the movie, except that King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference had planned to go only halfway over the bridge. Going the full distance would have jeopardized a relationship with the only White southern judge who appeared sympathetic to their case. “Selma” dramatically pictures King as a wise general who somehow knows that the state police could be stepping aside as part of a trap — cutting the marchers off from supplies, media, protection, etc. Yet it’s a work of “faction,” a cross between fact and fiction (a term that I mention in the Roots article I penned with Frank Clifford). (1) Although it might have been tempting for King and the marchers to continue on, especially with the state troopers appearing to allow them free passage, King had already determined not to move forward. Lamentably, however, he hadn’t told anyone else beyond SCLC leadership.
This is an important moment because it captures one strand of the film’s DNA about King that is woven through very well. In fact, the film gives a more complex vision of King and the Civil Rights Movement than I’ve seen in most other films.