The thing is, I think the controversies, especially the ones around LBJ, have to do with perspective rather than actual fact. In other words, both sides are correct and both sides are wrong. Sure, Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act and not even against his will, but that doesn't mean he didn't also act as an impediment to King. That's really the kind of thing that depends upon which side of the fence you're on. It's an awfully small thing to be arguing about in a film like this.
And what kind of a film is this? Well, it's everything that 12 Years a Slave was not. Where 12 Years is emotionally distant, Selma is emotionally gripping. Where 12 Years is brutally graphic, Selma shies away from actual depictions of violence. The club goes up, but you rarely see where it falls. What you do see is the aftermath and the emotional turmoil. You see purposeful, personal, systematic persecution of a people rather than the rather impersonal depiction of slavery from 12 Years and the isolated vendetta-style conflict. In Selma, it's not someone with a chip on his shoulder abusing a loan slave, it's a culture of persecution against a race. It's deliberate and it's illegal, and it was maddening to watch the injustice. Selma shines a bright light on what was a culture of intolerance and ignorance.
Look, I grew up in the South, and this movie made me wish that I had been alive in the 60s and could have marched with King myself.
That David Oyelowo was overlooked for a best actor nomination is frustrating at the very least. That Eddie Redmayne received one for sitting in a chair is an injustice. As far as I can tell from what people who know have been saying, Oyelowo was pretty spot on and, from the clips I've heard of King speaking, it sounded to me as if he nailed it. What I do know for sure, though, is that he nailed the speaking style of the Southern black preacher. I've been to some of those Southern Baptist meetings with black preachers, and Oyelowo, when he is delivering King's speeches, would have fit in flawlessly. It's also worth noting how monotone Oyelowo was when he was practicing those speeches to himself, but it was a tremendous transformation when he moved in front of a crowd.
The other acting is also great. Tom Wilkinson was spectacular as LBJ, as was Dylan Baker as Hoover. I have a fondness for Wendell Pierce and really enjoyed him as Rev. Williams. And Tim Roth... well, I wanted to punch him in his big, old nose. He needed someone to punch it. Stephen Root is also always good, and we didn't get less than we expected. Carmen Ejogo was also good as King's wife, but I don't actually think that one was an Oscar performance... except when you see that Felicity Jones was nominated; Ejogo was at least as good as Jones.
On top of everything else, though, the movie is timely in its relation to how you deal with terrorism, because that's what had been going on in the South for 100 years. I don't remember the exact quote, but there is a conversation between King and another man while they are in jail, the gist of which was something along the lines of standing up for your rights as a person and how to deal with the fact that the people who have been keeping you down will continue to try to knock you down. You just stand up again. It really resonated with what Charb said about dying on your feet rather than living on your knees. Some of King's followers did die, but they died on their feet for something they believed in, and it allowed those that came after them to start out on their feet. It's a powerful message.