Movie Stirs Memories in Selma

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The Golden Globe Awards are Sunday and one film that could pick up a few statues is Selma. The film depicts the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This weekend, Paramount Pictures began free screenings in the movie’s namesake town in Alabama.

It’s half-an-hour until show time and the majority of seats are already taken at this showing at the Walton Theater in Selma. In the front row, in the far left seat is 85-year-old George Sallie. He’s black, grew up near Selma and was drafted as young man.

“Went to Korea fighting for someone else’s freedom and really I didn’t have freedom myself,” said Sallie.

Sallie says after he came back he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He lifts up his ball cap and points to a scar on his forehead — a memento of what’s known as Bloody Sunday. That’s the day in March 1965 when protestors were brutally beaten by police as they tried to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Many people in the audience have firsthand connections with this history. Monique Williams was just a child then but remembers Annie Lee Cooper, who is played in the movie by Oprah Winfrey.

“I’m not quite sure how mama found her, but she was our housekeeper for about six months,” said Williams. “She was wonderful.”

Cooper was a civil rights activist most known for whacking the county sheriff at the time across the jaw.

Williams says she’s sure Cooper will come off great in the movie, but is a little uneasy about how white southerners will be depicted. Still she’s looking forward to it.

“I just think it’s a wonderful thing for Selma,” Williams said.

That’s because it took a special effort to bring this film here. The town doesn’t have a commercial movie theater.

Selma Mayor George Evans says it only makes sense the movie should be shown here and looked for a way to do it. He spoke with the filmmakers and the owner of a theater a few towns away. They made it happen in the city-owned auditorium. Evans says people first couldn’t believe the movie would be shown in Selma.

“But when we said the movie is going to be here and free, man, people just was overly elated over that,” said Evans.

Inside the theater, the audience is enraptured. They cheer. They sigh. And when the credits roll they applaud.

For Reverend F. D. Reese it brought back a lot of memories. He was head of the Selma movement then.

“I hope that people will understand the type of sacrifice that had to be made in order for us to enjoy…of the freedom we now enjoy today,” said Reese.

This is Terri Sewell’s third time seeing the film but the first with the hometown crowd. She represents Selma in Congress and is Alabama’s first black congresswoman. She especially wanted to see the movie with her parents.

“Mommy was literally in tears when she saw the reenactment of Bloody Sunday,” said Sewell. “And you know as I comforted her I said, ‘Isn’t it great that we are in a different space today.'”

Monique Williams agrees much progress has been made, but the film made her feel almost embarrassed. Teary-eyed she explains, yes she was a child, but oblivious to the injustice of segregation.

“I wish I could talk to Annie Lee Cooper today and just say, ‘Annie, I’m so proud of you,'” said Williams. “I think it sort of overwhelmed me as you can see.”

Several movie-goers remark about the need to take voting rights more seriously today. Some lament that race relations in America are still frayed. One native though says the voting rights marches needed to happen somewhere. He’s proud they happened in Selma.

Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager