Saturday, July 20, 2024

‘SELMA’ History, Onscreen

In the awards season favorite “Selma,” a seminal event in modern American history receives the big-screen treatment.


Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures, PatheÌ, and Harpo Films

With the critically-acclaimed biopic “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay expertly captures the high-stakes, behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala. march for voting rights led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The film’s release comes at a critical time, as a resurgent activist movement takes to the streets of cities across America to demonstrate against a rash of police killings of unarmed black men.
As the nation reflects on the state of racial progress in America, the people of Las Vegas are recalling the city’s own role in the civil rights movement — with marches led by local community leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, longtime activist Ruby Duncan led a group of public assistance recipients in a 1971 protest against the state welfare system, organizing a peaceful march on the Las Vegas Strip to call attention to low welfare grants and a lack of job training programs. Duncan is credited with inspiring development of the Operation Life program that provided needed services and assistance for Nevada’s poor.

Oprah Winfrey in a scene from the movie"Selma.' Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures, PatheÌ, and Harpo Films

The Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP, led in 1970 by Dr. James McMillan and other Nevada leaders like Dr. William H. “Bob” Bailey, called for a peaceful demonstration on the Las Vegas Strip planned for March 26, 1960. However, amid fears of violence that drew concerns about the potential effects on tourism, a meeting at the historic Moulin Rouge Hotel — between community leaders, Las Vegas Strip representatives and mediator Hank Greenspun — derailed the planned march after protester demands to end segregation practices at Strip hotels were received and communicated.

Fortunately, those demonstrations did not result in the kind of terror that occurred in Selma, where state troopers infamously attacked 600 demonstrators with clubs and tear gas. That 54-mile march helped shock the nation into an era of transformation, and it is in that spirit that a new generation of activists is hoping to spark change in 2014.
“It’s a wonderful thing that people are protesting,” said Oprah Winfrey, whose production company backed “Selma,” and who co-stars in the film with David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson told the New York Daily News. “When they say ‘Enough is enough’ and ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in Selma.”

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