Historical timelines tend to show the Civil Rights Movement as an era of the past, a chapter of American history that was snapped shut with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But as a way of thinking, a push toward the equality that’s essential to American ideals, the movement is ongoing. With Selma, Ava DuVernay details the three marches—from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama—led by King in 1965 to protest restrictions that prevented Black Americans from registering to vote. DuVernay doesn’t shy away from depicting violence, like the beating of marching citizens, at the hands of Sheriff Jim Clark and a group of police on horseback, during their first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But she’s careful with these sequences, too, conveying the horror of the events without summoning undue trauma. And David Oyelowo, as King, captures both the man’s solemn sense of purpose and his radiant charisma. His performance is part of the reason Selma never feels dull or dutifully instructive. It’s history that breathes.

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