Selma, Lord Selma (part 1)

Charles Burnett's "Selma, Lord Selma" isn't on the level of his masterpieces, "Killer of Sheep" or "To Sleep With Anger"--he's out to depict one struggle out of many in the war for black equality in the '60s, a crucial one, but he's not trying to transform it, to show it through the same mysterious, prismatic lens he used in "Killer" and "Sleep." The demarcation lines are clearly drawn; there is little ambiguity here: it's blacks and the few sympathetic whites helping them vs. the predominantly racist white community of Selma, Alabama.

That said, and considering that this is of all things a Disney TV production, it's still a remarkable piece of work.  We get to know the main protagonists quite well--Jonathan Daniels (Mackenzie Astin), the seminarian who comes to Selma wanting to help; Sheyann Webb (Jurnee Smollett) the lovely 11 year old girl through which the story is told; and even Martin Luther King Jr., who, as played by Clifton Powell, is a modest, warmly humorous man who frets over the people he leads into danger.

The story may not be altogether fresh--we have the usual drama about peoples' uprisings and children trying to convince their parents to allow them to pursue their beliefs come what may, and there's some preciousness in having a precocious child tell the story (it's based on a book written by the actual Webb), but Burnett brings to the material his inimitable restraint, not so much good taste (something I'd sooner accuse Clint Eastwood of having) as a sort of simplicity of approach, a grace that he brings to any subject, however idealistic or even potentially mawkish.


No comments: