A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Reveals the triumphs and challenges of the civil rights movement and the importance of gathering a diverse community to fight institutional racism in the Jim Crow South. Shows how the civil rights workers put their lives and privacy at risk in the face of tremendous odds. Major themes include courage, integrity, self-control, and perseverance.
Positive Role Models
King isn't idealized here -- his flaws, including infidelity, are addressed. But there's no shortage of incredible role models among the civil rights leaders, including King and his wife; their friends Hosea Williams, Bayard Ruskin, and a young John Lewis; Diane Nash; James Bevel; and others who supported the cause of nonviolent protest and raised national consciousness about inequality in the South.
Violence & Scariness
Southern whites terrorize the black marchers and potential voters -- attacking them with sticks, bats, guns, barbed stakes, and even whips. Selma police use tear gas and batons to viciously beat protestors until they're bloody and unable to walk. Angry segregationists blow up a church, killing four girls; they also beat a white clergyman to death. MLK and his friends refer to lynchings and the murders of Medgar Evars, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses and embraces between couples. One scene in which Coretta listens to a recording of two people having sex, presumably to make her think it's her husband and a mistress. Coretta and Martin have a conversation about his infidelity.
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Infrequent (except for the racial slurs) use of words including "f--k," "s--," "bulls--t," "ass," and "goddamn." Much more frequent use of the "N" word, "nigras," "negroes," "coon," "white n----r," "bastard," and more.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Selma follows the events leading up to 1965's momentous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march organized by Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference to campaign for voters' rights. Narrowly focused on the time leading up to the march, Selma provides a historical context for how each of the group's campaigns concentrated on raising awareness about a different issue in the segregated South. Expect several intense, disturbing scenes of race-based violence perpetrated against the non-violent protesters, including protesters being beaten bloody with sticks, weapons, and even whips. Others are killed, including innocent girls in a church that's blown up. Despite the historically accurate violence and the occasional strong language (ranging from "f--k" and "s--t" to frequent racial slurs) -- as well as a subplot about infidelity -- this is a powerful, educational drama that parents should watch with their mature tweens and teens. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Thanks to the fabulous performances, the gripping script, and the important subject matter, Selma is one of the finest films ever made about the civil rights movement. As Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner did with Lincoln, Selma writer-director Ava DuVernay focuses on a very specific time in a legendary historical figure's life, rather than taking a sweeping, generalized look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s whole life. The result is an important drama that's remarkable in scope and relevance to the continued national issues surrounding institutional racism. Oyelowo, who starred in DuVernay's previous feature, may be British, but he's perfectly cast as the civil rights leader, and Ejogo is excellent as Coretta Scott King (she played her before in the critically acclaimed HBO Film Boycott). Together they capture a picture of the Kings that's honest and not idealized. DuVernay doesn't gloss over the fact that the FBI monitored King and exposed his infidelities to Coretta. But his failings as a husband, while worth mentioning, don't take away from the importance of his work.
What's especially powerful about Selma is that it's not all-consumingly grim and upsetting (although there are a few nearly unbearable moments when it's hard not to cry). Yes, there are white supremacists yelling the "N" word and beating nonviolent protestors, but there are also bits of humor -- like when King and a seemingly never-ending group of friends descend on a preacher's home for his wife's cooking, or when Johnson tells Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) exactly what history will say about him. There's even romance -- like the Kings dancing in their Nobel Prize gala finery. In addition to Oyelowo, Wilkinson, and Ejogo, standout performances include James as the young John Lewis, Wendell Pierce as Reverend Hosea Williams, and Oprah Winfrey as a woman who's unable to register to vote.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.