1965 or 2014?

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by Richard Corliss,

from TIME Magazine,

In Ava DuVernay’s retelling of Martin Luther King’s leadership in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we see how much King achieved — and how little we have advanced.

“I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” said Lyndon Johnson, in his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965. “At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.”

The President was referring to the “Bloody Sunday” confrontation in Selma, Ala., on March 7, when Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies met about 600 peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with nightsticks, tear gas and charging horses. The naked brutality of this assault — just nine days after the young, unarmed black Baptist minister Jimmie Lee Jackson had died from an Alabama State Trooper’s gunshot — spurred LBJ to bring the Voting Rights Act to Congress. A Texas Democrat who knew his party could lose the South for decades if he championed equal rights for blacks, Johnson nonetheless boldly declared, “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.“

His comments reverberate eerily today, when police again can kill unarmed black men and face no legal punishment — and when the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed on August 6, 1965, with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John Lewis by his side, gets effectively defanged 48 years later by the Supreme Court. So Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a vivid retelling of the months leading up to the three historic marches from Selma to Birmingham, carries a message that has lost none of its heroic, tragic relevance. If not quite in quality then certainly in import and impact, this is the film of the year — of 1965 and perhaps of 2014.

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