History Professor Criticizes 'Selma' for Errors

Selma Trailer Grab - H 2014

Director Ava DuVernay's film previously earned flak from a Lyndon B. Johnson historian

A history professor is suggesting that Selma's filmmakers played too fast and loose with the story's facts.

Gary May has published an essay on the Daily Beast that details what he feels are numerous historical inaccuracies in the film. Selma, about Martin Luther King's 1965 march from Salem to Montgomery, Ala., has already earned flak from a Lyndon B. Johnson historian about how the president is represented.

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May, author of the 2013 book Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy, writes in his essay that director Ava DuVernay's "greatest failure" is "not fulfilling her stated purpose of highlighting Selma’s civil rights movement. Except for a few scenes, we see little of the bravery Selma’s citizens displayed."

Among other "significant errors" May cites is that Bloody Sunday, in which state and local police attacked protesters, was not immediately shown on TV, as the film depicts. "Americans had to wait several hours until film of the event reached New York for it to be broadcast," he writes.

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The film distorted other facts, according to May, by not stating that Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) lost the right to vote after returning to Selma, and by downplaying the involvement of Selma's teachers in the protests.

May writes that King's response to Bloody Sunday was the "most muddled part of the film." May says that someone from President Johnson's office arranged with George Wallace and Sheriff Jim Clark to allow King and his followers to march partway and then return to their church in order to avoid a second attack. King agreed to the compromise but didn't let his followers know about it, which May calls King's "lowest moment as a leader."

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@pgmedia.org
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski