“Selma" has received praise for its portrayal of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama in the 1960s, including being nominated for three Golden Globes. But since its big debut on Christmas day, some critics have weighed in negatively, arguing that the film is lacking something major: accuracy.
Two supporters of former President Lyndon B. Johnson have published op-eds criticizing the film for what they argue are historical inaccuracies. In “Selma,” the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Johnson is depicted as a tense one, in which Johnson is initially resistant to King’s desire for voting rights legislation and plans for protests in Selma, but is ultimately persuaded to support him after the marches there.
Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian who is director of the LBJ Presidential Library, wrote an ep-ed in Politico arguing that the nature of the relationship between LBJ and MLK was portrayed inaccurately in the film. Updegrove disputes the film’s account, writing: “This characterization of the 36th president flies in the face of history. In truth, the partnership between LBJ and MLK on civil rights is one of the most productive and consequential in American history.”
“It does no good to bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the Civil Rights Movement by suggesting that the President himself stood in the way of progress,” Updegrove writes.
In The Washington Post, former LBJ aide Joseph Califano wrote an op-ed titled “The movie ‘Selma’ has a glaring flaw.” Much like Updegrove, Califano argues that the film “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr,” and slams the film’s creators for “taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment.”
“In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him,” Califano argued.
Ava DuVernay, the film’s director, responded to the criticisms on Sunday on Twitter, arguing that the film was accurate and the Selma marches were not LBJ’s idea:
Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who was a leading civil rights activist in the 1960s and is a key character in the film, told The Washington Post that "Seeing myself being played is almost too much.” Lewis also told Variety that he felt the film was "long overdue," and that its release is "good timing with what is going on in Ferguson."