Selma, while widely praised by the majority of film critics and a leading contender for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, has received some intense scrutiny over the last few weeks for what many believe is an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson and LBJ’s role in passing the Voting Rights Act.
On Sunday, Yahoo! did a roundup of inaccuracies and complaints about this year’s nominees and found that many LBJ historians are upset with how his role in approving voting rights is marginalized.
Johnson historian Mark K. Updegrove called the film’s depiction a “mischaracterization,” writing that “in truth, the partnership between LBJ and MLK on civil rights is one of the most productive and consequential in American history.”
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Johnson’s top assistant during the time period depicted in Selma, had even harsher words for the film, calling it on the carpet for taking “dramatic, trumped-up license.”
In his Washington Post op-ed, he had this to say.
“The makers of the new movie Selma apparently just couldn’t resist taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment to work as a big-screen historical drama. As a result, the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.
“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.”
DuVernay has since responded to Califano’s claim in comments reported by HitFix.
“[The] notion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) black citizens who made it so.”
What do you think, readers? Did the film that is now nominated for Best Picture take too many liberties with the character of LBJ? If so, why do you think this decision was made?
Also, have you had a chance to see Selma? If so, where do you think it belongs in the Best Picture discussion? Sound off in our comments section.