In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, hospital Ava DuVernay, the director of the critically acclaimed film SELMA spoke about the dissent her film is receiving in “certain circles” when it comes to the portrayal of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. DuVernay says, “Every filmmaker imbues a movie with their own point of view. The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. You have to bring in some context for what it was like to live in the racial terrorism that was going on in the Deep South at that time.” Terrorism is a word that is most commonly associated with the 9/11 narrative and the WAR on Terror articulated by the George W. Bush administration that completely transformed how we approach air travel in this country, redefined who our enemies are supposed to be and what they are supposed to “look like” just to reflect on a few post 9/11 cultural shifts. But terrorism is not a word that has historically been associated with the racial legacy and history of the United States. However, it is a FACT that Black people were terrorized, traumatized and indiscriminately murdered and harassed for generations in the United States of America and the escalation of violence and terror against Black men, women and children is well documented around the struggle for Civil Rights and the right to vote in the early 1960s. This campaign of terror was sanctioned by the state and often perpetrated by law enforcement. Ava DuVernay went further to say, “Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we’re talking about a reluctant hero.” And that perspective has the mainstream media, especially the liberal media in a complete and utter meltdown. Let’s not even think about what it must be doing to the conservative media memes.
Learning the truth of history and allowing Black people to determine who our heroes are and to control the narrative as we recount their stories through our own lens is what is so exacerbating to the LBJ hero worshippers. Instead of being forced to deal with the glorification of all these white heroes throughout history who had their “boots” on our necks while smiling in our faces through clinched teeth, moving as if there was no extreme urgency at all when they knew that every moment of delay meant another life lost; instead of claiming LBJ as the hero of the movement, “we” define the heroes in SELMA. The Emancipation of Black folks happened mainly because Black folks demanded that it be so. Black folks pricked the conscience of a President and a nation and refused to take NO for an answer.
All the hyped up outrage over the portrayal of LBJ in the movie SELMA once again calls out that white privilege demands its own attention and that its perspective be the ONE that we ALL herald as absolutely TRUE. NO! Rep. John Lewis touted SELMA as, “… a beautiful movie, real and necessary.” There were many people responsible for the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement. We are not interested in giving LBJ an academy award. Yes he (LBJ) played a role, but he is NOT the same hero to some of US as he is to others of us. And THAT is our prerogative.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: The Struggle Continues…