Opinion: ‘Selma’ reminds us Black Lives Matter

Amanda Paniagua is a graduate art history major. Contact her at [email protected]

Amanda Paniagua

The chronicle surrounding Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights in the Deep South was released nationwide earlier this month. The film couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time given the recent nationwide protests to address police brutality predicated on implicit racial bias. Many of the film’s stars were photographed at the New York City premiere in December wearing T-shirts with the phrase, “I Can’t Breathe” to show solidarity with Eric Garner who was killed after being put in a chokehold by a New York City police officer last July.

This outpouring of support from the cast members further echoes the importance of keeping the Black Lives Matter discussion front and center. Though “Selma” follows the 1965 campaign for securing equal voting rights, the overall message and tone of the film is easily transferable to the current struggle for black autonomy. Some critics have expressed concerns about the portrayal of former President Lyndon B. Johnson as less than accurate. However, this criticism often misses the point, much like those who ask, “Why don’t ‘All Lives Matter?’”

I say this because “Selma” depicts a phenomenon that was experienced disproportionately by black southerners. Literacy tests were implemented as a way to disenfranchise a specific segment of the population much in the same way that racial bias still serves currently to police certain segments of our population differently. Both serve as reminders that U.S. citizens can experience social institutions in very opposing ways, but it is often the case that black Americans are expected to assume their experience is not an anomaly. So, again, to derail the conversation, whether it’s to criticize the way Johnson was portrayed in “Selma” or to criticize the phrase Black Lives Matter as not inclusive enough, is to turn a blind eye to a reality too many Americans are living.  

You do not have to be black to understand the importance in saying Black Lives Matter; that comes with educating yourself about the current issues and understanding how they fit into the continuum of our shared history here in the United States and globally. There were plenty of non-black folks who helped demonstrate in 1965 because they valued life and specifically black life. I highly encourage readers to see “Selma” and to let the film be a springboard for your own radicalization and commitment to understanding racial justice on a global scale in 2015.