By Whitney V. Hunter, Cohort ’13
SELMA, a 2015 film directed by Ava DuVernay, chronicles the devastating and difficult times of demonstrations, dissent, and civil unrest preceding the protest march lead by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma, Alabama. The film shows explicitly the determination of King, and his supporters, to get the government involved in collaborative efforts towards justice. Unfortunately, not until the gruesome attacks against the demonstrators were shown on national television, broadcast into the homes of millions sitting safely, did the movement matter.
At the core of the film SELMA, and the Civil Rights Movement in general, is the question of a Hegelian master slave narrative as seen in the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and then President Lyndon Johnson. The film's description of the events, made gloriously brilliant through the collaborative team of DuVernay and the director of photography, Bradford Young (Howard University shout out), does elevate philosophical questions. Does it really take massacre for acknowledgement and recognition to occur? Is not unrighteousness and injustice against a people enough? After screening the film, I was left with one main question: without the recognition of the “master,” do black lives matter? I imagine this is a question that both Hegel and Lacan could address.
King's efforts, as seen in SELMA, raise many concerns regarding the effectiveness of the Civil Rights movement making progress without the recognition of people beyond its reach. Today, it seems, we witness current mass demonstrations as a result of calls to action similar to those that made by Dr. King after being denied support by President Lyndon Johnson. From that singular point in American history to the present day, although now there is no outstanding Civil Rights leader, we witness a similarity in the relationship between the black bodies victimized by systemic racism then and now.