Lyndon Johnson’s Aides Are Mad That MLK Is the Hero of Selma
Selma doesn’t offer a hostile portrayal of Johnson. What it does is tell a story in which King and his collaborators are the key actors, and Johnson is a bit of a bystander. His notion of doing the War on Poverty first and voting rights second isn’t obviously wrongheaded or pernicious, but King doesn’t agree with it. King and his collaborators choose the place and the time of the battle, Johnson tries a couple of times to talk them out of it, he fails, and ultimately he swings around to King’s viewpoint.
It’s a different kind of story from, say, the Help or Lincoln where the subject is the rights of black people but the protagonist is a white person. Certainly one could image an excellent Lincoln-esque film that primarily highlighted the legislative machinations among white politicians and cast LBJ as the hero (I would watch). But the choice to make a different film that highlights activist demands and casts MLK as the hero isn’t a form of historical inaccuracy or grounds for dismissing the movie. The idea that a film should be ruled out for having the temerity to focus on black people’s agency in securing their own liberation is completely absurd. We’ve had too few such films in American history and everyone could stand to watch some more.