Catholic Studies Program Screens “Selma” for MLK Day

By Elisha Brown

Contributing Writer

In honor of MLK day, the department of Catholic Studies (CIT) screened the historical drama film, “Selma,” on Jan. 24 in the Schine Auditorium.

This film, directed by African American female director, Ava DuVernay, is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr, James Bevel, John Lewis and Hosea Williams.

Undergraduates are required to take two CIT (Catholic Intellectual Traditions) courses. One of the required course materials is Letter from Birmingham Jail, a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 after being imprisoned for a nonviolent demonstration against segregation.

Professor Brent Little PhD, organizer of the movie screening, felt that the federal holiday and course materials presented a great opportunity to show this film.

“In CIT, we read Letter from Birmingham Jail and I see this film as a follow up to that letter because it takes place approximately a year or two after the events in Birmingham. I think it’s a good reminder of just how long and how bloody a sacrifice it was to achieve real political pressure upon the congress and the president. It wasn’t easy and I love this film because it shows how complicated it was,” said Little.

Selma evokes an abundance of emotions as it depicts the notorious Children’s Crusade of 1963 where children were sprayed with fire hoses and threatened with attack dogs. This was a pivotal moment in American history.

It was the first time all of America saw the turmoil taking place in the south as the news made its way around the country.

“We tend to kind of simplify the civil rights movement in the sense that King just kind of showed up, protested and suddenly congress and the president woke up, their conscious spoke and they passed legislation. When in fact, it was very difficult to enact real political change,” said Little. “I think it also presents a challenge to all of us today.  Would we be willing to risk our lives like this? I think it’s a very challenging question to pose on myself and I think others feel the same.”

Voter suppression is the overarching theme in this film.

Oprah Winfrey, who plays Annie Lee Cooper, a civil rights activist in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, is shown trying to register to vote, but is denied by a white registrar.

“We really haven’t talked about it in school since elementary school. So, just seeing a lot of those things took me by surprise. Also, just seeing the way Dr. King was portrayed, I just didn’t realize his character and leadership and how he was able to get everyone to follow him. I just thought that was really inspiring.” said junior Mary Reiner.

Junior, Emily Palma, was moved to tears as the movie ends with the portrayal of the march on the highway to Montgomery taking place. When the marchers reach Montgomery, Dr. King delivers a moving speech on the steps of the State Capitol.

“I thought it was an incredibly beautiful film. There was a lot in it that I did not know about our history. I haven’t really talked about this with my peers or teachers since elementary school, so it’s been awhile. I feel grateful that we have this day off for him,” said Palma.

The movie concludes with images of marchers walking over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, accompanied by the Oscar winning song “Glory” sung by John Legend and rapper, Common.

“I feel like the movie itself was so beautiful, the words, the music, and the characters were all so well chosen,” said junior Kelsey Gibbs.  “I learned so many things I’d never realized before. In elementary school, we learned the story, but I never realized how powerful he really was and how many people were so willing to risk their lives for the movement. I’m just so grateful that we celebrate this day for him. I’m really just speechless.”

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