Part 1—On rereading Dr. King: A half dozen commenters said the same thing about yesterday’s Maureen Dowd column.
They said it was the first such column they had ever agreed with.
Funny that! The very same thought had run through our minds as we read the Dowd column! That said, we also disagreed with one basic part of Dowd’s piece.
Below, you see the part of the column with which we agreed. Dowd is speaking about Ava DuVernay’s new film, Selma, which has received an Oscar nomination as the year’s Best Picture.
In particular, Dowd is discussing the film’s semi-controversial portrait of Lyndon Johnson, a former American president. We agree with this part of Dowd's piece:
DOWD (1/18/15):“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” DuVernay said. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”We agree with Dowd’s diagnosis. If you’re making a major film about major historical figures, you need to make a basic effort to get basic history right. In our view, DuVernay has been a bit slick, and perhaps a bit “truthy,” in her discussions of this basic matter.
The “Hey, it’s just a movie” excuse doesn’t wash. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.
Dowd thought DuVernay misrepresented the truth in one part of this story. We’re inclined to agree with that assessment—and we think this is unfortunate. We agree with Dowd!
That said, we disagreed with Dowd on another point. We wondered if she got a bit “scripty” in this part of her column:
DOWD: Many of the teenagers by me bristled at the power dynamic between the men. It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens.Were Selma’s actors actually “snubbed” in last week's Oscar nominations? Is its director loaded with talent?
And that’s a shame. I loved the movie and find the Oscar snub of its dazzling actors repugnant. But the director’s talent makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.
Like Dowd, we went to see the film this weekend. For various reasons, it didn’t strike us that way.
We didn’t love the movie. We thought it was surprisingly poor, just not a great piece of work.
Your reactions may differ! We brunched today with two old friends whose assessments differed from ours. That said, we thought the film was mediocre at best. In many ways, we thought it was rather poor.
Full disclosure: We rarely like “historical dramas” of this type. It’s hard to turn important historical events into two-hour dramas. To us, Selma seemed to come in on the low end of such productions.
You may not see it that way! For ourselves, we’d recommend some of the dazzling documentaries which discuss various chapters in the civil rights era. Or we’d recommend the actual words of Dr. King himself.
A few years ago, we reread, then gushed about, Dr. King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, his memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott. Rereading that book after many years, we were stunned by the morally brilliant person who emerged from its pages.
We didn’t find a hint of that person in Selma’s portrait of Dr. King. We thought the film was rather leaden—and we can’t help wondering if mainstream reviewers may perhaps feel compelled to say different.
Our two old friends found Selma moving. That said:
In our broken national discourse, it’s typically narrative all the way down. Stride Toward Freedom emerges from a remarkable moral and intellectual world, as did much of the civil rights movement. It's a world which lies well outside the truthy, scripty horizons of our grasping elites.
We thought Selma was murky, dull, uninspired, uninspiring. The film may not strike you that way. It didn’t seem that way to our friends.
Having said that, is Selma’s director loaded with talent? Were its actors really “snubbed” by Oscar voters?
Was Selma snubbed? That script was clownishly overextended at the new Salon, where we were told that the film, a Best Picture nominee, was “overwhelmingly snubbed.” But then, we the devolving pseudo-liberals seem more and more scripted each day.
We were surprised by the real Dr. King when we reread Stride Toward Freedom. We’d recommend that you see the new film, and that you read this man’s books.