The South lost the Civil War but wasn't going to capitulate, not in the manner it should have. Subjugating "black people" was a way of trying to cling to the "Lost Cause," as it was called. I put "black people" in quotes. So odd that we look at a whole swath of our society and simply characterize them by their skin color. Skin color? Today in 2016, we have a rainbow society in which there are shades between so-called "white" and "black." There are dark-skinned people not of African descent, obviously. There are dark-skinned southern Europeans et. al. It doesn't matter anymore, expect in those extreme backwater places in the Deep South.
The old dichotomy of white and black seems quaint now. The term "negro" had currency when I was young. I guess whites were "caucasian." Young people today would wrinkle up their foreheads with such talk. In the '60s, progressives had a dream of a color-blind society, while realizing simultaneously that it was probably an unattainable ideal. Folks, it has been attained, certainly with our youth. The youth embody our hopes and dreams. Us older folks just move on. In the meantime, we can look back at the mess that was, thanks to the "Selma" movie directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. I checked out this DVD from our Morris Public Library.
We were shocked by the confrontational events of the time. Today I think we're more puzzled and humbled, realizing the depths of depravity in the human soul, particularly those losers of the Deep South.
I dismiss George Wallace as rather a scapegoat or straw man. He was a product of his culture. I have researched the man and found that deep down, he realized the folly of the attitudes he espoused. He was an opportunistic politician, ready to say what his constituents wanted. He was a political animal. When these instincts are unleashed in a constructive way, such people are most admirable. In the Deep South, the positive scenario was untenable. A black lawyer once said that "Wallace was the first judge who ever called me Mister in a courtroom."
Getting shot had the effect of humbling Wallace. Wallace was totally comparable to Donald Trump today, and by that I'm not suggesting any racist slant. The two are comparable in that they are politicians as showmen, politicians with a drive to impress audiences with their organically articulate nature. An ex-wife of Wallace once said of him: "He didn't want a marriage, he wanted an audience." I smiled when considering this. Such people are fascinating to observe.
Wallace ran for president in 1968 as an independent, remember? I think the slogan was "Stand up for America." I was in the eighth grade. I was taken by him, not knowing all the ugly racist background of the Deep South. I just saw him on the TV news with great frequency, and his oratory was entertaining. His words seemed to spring from some primal place, in contrast with the "typical politician" whose words are poll-tested. Had I been backgrounded with all the Jim Crow stuff, I would have put Wallace's words in their proper context. I impulsively found him amusing and interesting.
And after all, who are we comparing him with? Lyndon Johnson? Johnson held the office of president for the escalated Viet Nam war debacle. Countless young men died. It has been said the war ran Johnson rather than the other way around. But he was commander in chief. Johnson is easy to upbraid today, just as Richard Nixon is, because their presidencies were flawed.
Johnson comes off as not very sympathetic in the cinema I'm reviewing here. Instead of walking a tightrope, the Texan comes across more as seeing the civil rights movement (at least for a time) as annoying. Like a fly buzzing around your head. At the end he makes a triumphant speech. But he has rather been dragged to that point.
Today we have an overt racist on the Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia. Hurdles are still out there.
"Selma" helps preserve the historical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, played in a classy way by David Oyelowo. President Johnson is played by Tom Wilkinson, who starred in one of my favorite all-time obscure movies: "An Angel for May." Tim Roth gives a crisp performance as Wallace. Carmen Ejogo is Coretta Scott King.
"Selma" removes all doubt about whether we should feel any nostalgia about the '60s. The Beatles were an oasis of joy in a time when politics failed our way of life in America. It failed us in the halting progress of the civil rights movement, and it failed us monumentally in Viet Nam.
As a kid I soaked in the TV news very regularly. I watched the Today Show when Barbara Walters was up and coming. I watched the Huntley and Brinkley evening news. Our family only got the NBC channel in those days. So I got to watch Brinkley crack up with the "maraschino cherry" story. I absorbed so much conflict when watching the news. The war and its protests seemed surreal with their dominance. How could we live with this horrible situation for so long? And why was the struggle for basic human rights to arduous? We saw black people get beaten down in the South.
The media were so essential. Awareness of the media's power comes through in the movie "Selma." I laud the movie for that.
"Selma" faces the challenge of captivating viewers when it presents a known story with a known outcome. I worried that the movie might become tedious. It did not. Real human emotion came through. We feel suspense despite knowing that good was going to prevail over evil. We see the white racists for what they are: losers. Just like they lost the Civil War. Losers, losers, losers. All the Dixiecrat Party did, was lose.
The movie shows us the attempt to cross the Edmund Petters Bridge just outside of Selma AL. We see cops in riot gear. Just as importantly we see the TV news journalists, watching vigilantly.
"Selma" was nominated for Best Picture in the 87th Academy Awards. It won for Best Original Song in the Golden Globe Awards.
The portrayal of Johnson ended up as the movie's biggest controversy. I have to admit I don't trust Texans very much. Johnson and JFK were at opposite ends of the charisma spectrum. Johnson came on the TV looking like he might be constipated. All he ever needed to tell us was that "our troops are coming home." Five words. The Smothers Brothers had more wisdom than the president. It seems so mild now, what Tom and Dick Smothers said. Hey, maybe a movie should be made about that episode too: the controversial "Smothers Brothers" TV show! I'm serious. Didn't they have a routine called "Mom always liked you best?"
Would that we could embrace such innocuous memories of the '60s, like the Beatles. Kids of today, you have no idea what it was like being alive then.