Thursday, January 15, 2015

SELMA's brilliance shines a light on diversity - a light we all need to see.

Selma movie poster

Sunday's 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards were illuminating. For me, primarily because much has changed in the realm of equality, and it was apparent that even with the approximate 80% white attendance and nominations at the show, we are now continuing to see a steady stream of minority representation in the Hollywood & entertainment realms. That steady representation's message is one of continual improvement and change, which was the message behind the nominees. Specifically, that of the movie Selma. Last week I went with some very close friends to see a special pre-screening of Selma. The film took the post 1964 Civil Rights Act which desegregated the south and allowed blacks to vote, events in Selma, Alabama and made it into a gorgeous screenplay told in a docudrama format. Selma, was nothing short of perfectly cast by Aisha Coley, and brilliantly directed by Ava DuVernay. It is unmistakably Oscar worthy.

Photo of director Ava DuVernay.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the events at Selma, Alabama, IMDb gives a nice summation which states: "Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

Screen grab from the film

I was elated by the presence of the film at this years awards show. Why, do you ask? Well, it was once said that "Theatre is the currency of society." This film was nothing short of representing America's currency in three ways: 1) It reflected the current state of affairs with regard to race relations in America, b) It gave insight and a very harsh look at who we area as Americans, 3) It gave us a predictive look at how to and not to handle this type of situation. However, for me, it was the reflection, the insight, nor the predictive model for which I found the most value for this film. It is the identification that the clear struggle with discrimination, which is apart of our foundation, is anything but over for our country.

Screen grab of Oprah Winfrey in a moving scene from Selma.

The most brilliant part of this film is the opening. It sets the tone, and makes what creative writers would consider the main idea or purpose of the piece. The film opens with Martin Luther King Jr., a black man, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign against racism in the field of human rights. One would think that the war against racism would be over when you have a black man winning the Nobel Peace Prize. However, this juxtaposition of the acceptance speech in the beginning of the film against the tiring, arduous, and taxing events which transpire after is telling.

Anne Coulter tells Sean Hannity on Fox's Hannity that there isn't racism in America.

Not so long ago in 2014 Ann Coulter basically told us that racism has disappeared from America. "Unfortunately, for liberals, there is no racism in America. There is more cholera in America than there is racism. But they have to invent it..." She said this to Sean Hannity on Fox News in 2014. However, when a woman of privilege dismisses all things racist related by making blanket statements like, "there is no racism in America," you can't help but equate her with Tim Roth's Governor character in Selma who, in the film, eluded to the same idea. Which, as we all know, was a completely inauthentic stance that his character utilized in order to cover up his own racist behavior and perception. More parallels? I wonder. Check out what John Oliver said about our prison system, which is an example of the clear preexisting conditions which are stacked against minorities, and then tell me what you think of Ann Coulter's statement:

Screen grab from John Oliver's bit about the prison system

I can go on point by point, citing examples and facts, but I think you can see where I'm going here. America, which was founded by a group of European religious zealots, has a strong history of discrimination. Not just any discrimination. It's discrimination against anyone who is different from them. We (Americans) have killed off the Indians, made slaves of Africans, killed Witches during the Salem Witch trials, Asians during the World War, persecuted blacks again during the civil rights movement, and now are persecuting those who are gay and transgendered. Not to mention that some of the previous groups are still being persecuted. This hubris filled mentality which has fueled all this persecution continues to rear its ugly head because, as an old boss of mine (Caren Meghreblian) used to say, "Humans are doomed." We just refuse to learn to stop fearing things that are different. We refuse to learn to stop fearing domination from another group. We refuse to learn to stop fearing looking ignorant or 'bad' in front of other people. We refuse to stop holding on to what we think is 'right' or 'wrong' (usually only because someone told us or because it was read in a thousands of years old document which has no socio-historical context...I digress) in front of other people. But most of all, we refuse to be objective.

Without lamenting too much longer, I will say this. I think that Selma was a brilliant film, and we have yet to really appreciate it for just how truly brilliant it is. That will come in the future. For now, I think that it's important that we utilize this time to take the lesson from the film. And since there isn't just one community that is affected, I feel it's important that we in the geek community also take a good look at ourselves. Let's look at the demographics of what kind of projects permeate our community and at whom they are marketed. Look at what kind of messages they convey to the public, and most of all, look at how easy or not easy it is to get diverse content made. Here are some examples: How many minority superheroes are there for others to look up to? How many women and minorities do you see portrayed negatively in video games? Continue to analyze and think about many other communities and how they are exemplified. Then think about your connection to those communities. What do you know about them and from where did your knowledge come? How do you perceive them and are your perceptions accurate? Awareness is half the battle. So, if we begin to at least ask ourselves some of these questions, then we have truly taken away the lesson of Selma.

Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the Academy Award Nominations have been released, and Selma was nominated for almost nothing, save Best Picture (which seems like a token nomination) and Best Song. Clearly, the fight is still ongoing.

Brian J. Patterson is an actor, writer and producer that splits his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. His home is a shrine to comic books...but mostly Wonder Woman.

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