Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Long March to Freedom

The unwarranted controversy around Ava DuVernay's depiction of President Johnson in, "Selma," got me thinking about the challenge of writing a movie about historical figures. Being a writer, I know how difficult it is to write about a real person - especially someone who is as well-known and beloved as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. The sheer scope of their life stories is daunting. What do you include and what do you leave out? How do you capture the life of a person in two hours? As an artist, you hope to capture a glimpse of their spirit. A writer attempts to create meaning out of life events. That is a tall order for men who meant so much to so many people. A friend of mine admitted that he didn't want to see, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," because writer William Nicholson chose to include Mandela cheating on his first wife and endangering his family. Similarly, writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay included this same weakness in their portrait of Martin Luther King. I believe that the writers showed great courage in sharing these great men's weaknesses. Illuminating the real men behind the legends is what makes these movies so powerful!

In both movies, their wives are portrayed as partners in the fight for civil rights. "Selma," makes it clear that Coretta enabled Martin Luther King to be the face of the civil rights movement by supporting him financially and caring for their children at home. The film concentrates on a shorter period in history to take a more personal look at Martin's and Coretta's relationship and the effect the struggles of the civil rights movement had on them. They risked their lives walking side by side at the peaceful demonstration in, "Selma" 

In, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Nelson’s story is contrasted with Winnie's tragic tale. While Mandela was in jail, it was his wife Winnie who led the Apartheid and Free Mandela movements. The movie captures her growing hatred as she witnesses violence towards her people and she endures torture at the hands of their white oppressors. When Mandela is finally released from prison, Winnie demands that he use his power to overthrow the white government. But the visionary Mandela finds the strength and wisdom to transcend the urge for revenge or justice. He has learned that the only way for Africa to be whole again is through cooperation and forgiveness.

What makes these movies so inspiring is that their subjects weren't perfect, but they accomplished great things. These flawed men and women sacrificed everything to bring freedom to their people.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal


"Selma," was honored with a Best Song Oscar for, "Glory," by songwriters Common and John Legend.

1 comment:

Robin Farmer said...

Nice job, Jana!