Monday, January 19, 2015

Selma is Now (On the commemoration of MLK, Jr.'s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Selma protests)

My First Visit to the MLK. Jr. Memorial, July 2014
"One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours"
 - "Glory" by John Legend and Common

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the movie "Selma," starring David Oyelowo and featuring Oprah Winfrey. The film was directed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay, of whom I'd heard because of a friend who works in the film industry. As a director, she is a relative newcomer to mainstream Hollywood, and while I have not seen her previous films, I understand the impact she's had on my friend, who is still working to achieve success in such a tough field, and I can appreciate how her integrity and work ethic as a filmmaker have led to where she is now, with Selma.

I speak of Ava DuVernay because, if you look at her IMDB, you can see that she's worked for many years in the film industry as a publicist, editor, writer and director. Selma is only her third feature film, and most may never have heard of her before this film, but as an African-American woman, she directed this film with such nuance that I think only an African-American woman could. As I watched the movie, I reflected on snippets of her interviews about "Selma," and I connected with Ms. DuVernay's voice in this film. "Selma" is about Martin Luther King, Jr., the struggle to bring the Voting Rights Act to pass, and the violence that protesters during the Civil Rights era suffered, but it was also about a man and the women who worked alongside him, women who stood at the front lines yet never received the same accolades or recognition as MLK, Jr., women and girls who were beaten and killed, not only because of their race, but because they were brave (and crazy) enough to raise their voices to demand justice and equal rights.

Scene from "Selma"
As I watched Selma, I could not help but realize that, while this had happened in the 1960's, it still resonates too strongly with the issues people of color face today. In one scene, the protesters got down on both knees and put their hands behind their heads. It made me think of the protests that have been occurring in recent months. The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture, demonstrating the gesture eyewitnesses have said that unarmed teen Michael Brown made as he was being shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri in August of last year, flashed in my mind while watching the film. In that scene, 1965 and 2014 abruptly came together as one single moment, my heart and mind confused, angry, tired, and fearful all at once.

Howard University Protest

Watching the film, I appreciated all of the work of the activists who truly endured suffering during the Civil Rights era, but one question kept coming up in my mind, soul, and spirit: "WHY are we still struggling today?" Why are Black and Brown people in the United States still dealing with not only violence and injustice at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve, but even the Voting Rights Act - one of the most effective pieces of legislation to come out of the Civil Rights era - being tampered with by the Supreme Court and the states? Why are we still having to protest and organize over, not just equal access to voting, but the right to simply walk down the street without fear of being murdered for being Black?
Scene from "Selma"

Ferguson Protest
And as I watched, emotions churned within me, and I asked myself, "What am I doing, and what can I do, to contribute to this work?" I left the theater angry, sad, amazed, and proud. There was so much that the activists of the Civil Rights era did right, but the movement was literally assassinated by the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, de facto segregation, poverty and unemployment, pouring drugs into urban communities, educational inequality, so on and so forth.

Ferguson Protest
A few weeks ago, I was forced to make this blog and my Twitter account private and block someone from my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts because I was being harassed for expressing my views on recent events. To make matters worse, this person is a retired police officer. I was afraid of what might happen to me and that I might possibly not get the help that I needed if the harassment progressed from social media to a physical confrontation. The fear is what caused me to stop talking about Ferguson, Eric Garner, police brutality, and social inequality. The fear of what might happen to me or my family caused me to lose my voice. 

Scene from "Selma"
While I am not against police, I am against police brutality and the excessive use of force. While I am not racist, I am against institutional racism and systemic inequality. While I do not hate men, I am most definitely a feminist. This morning, waking up with "Selma" and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on my mind, I knew what I could do, and what I would do. 

I will use my voice again, and I will not let fear stop me from using my voice. 

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr. And thank you to the women in the struggle - I speak your names:

The Four Little Girls killed in Birmingham: 
Addie Mae Collins
Cynthia Wesley
Carole Robertson
Denise McNair

The Women in Selma:
Diane Nash
Annie Lee Cooper
Amelia Boynton Robinson
Viola Liuzzo
Coretta Scott King

And thank you, Ava DuVernay, for giving a woman's voice to this inspiring film.

"When the war is done, when it's all said and done, we'll cry 'Glory, Oh, Glory'" 

- "Glory" by John Legend and Common