Controversy Grows Over Depiction of Clash Between MLK and LBJ in “Selma”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in "Selma"
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in “Selma”

Historians take issue with director Ava DuVernay focus on former president Lyndon B. Johnson

Days away from the wide release of “Selma,” a controversy around the film is gaining steam as historians take issue with its depiction of president Lyndon B. Johnson clashing with Martin Luther King, Jr. over voting rights.

In a lengthy New York Times story about historians taking issue with the movie, Diane McWhorter, the author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution,”argued Thursday that the movie is not truthful in depicting LBJ (played by Tom Wilkinson) fighting King on staging protests in Selma.

“Everybody has to take license in movies like this, and it can be hard for nit-pickers like me to suspend nit-picking,” she told The Times. “But with the portrayal of L.B.J., I kept thinking, ‘Not only is this not true, it’s the opposite of the truth.’ ”

Director Ava DuVernay‘s “Selma” and its depiction of 1965 voting rights marches led by King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) has won praise from critics and quickly become a serious contender for an Academy Award nomination.  The movie opens wide on January 9.

Controversy over historically-based films are common, but this subject may be particularly sensitive since it is the first major feature film about King, and addresses the heart of the civil rights movement at a time when racial tension continues to preoccupy the country.

The notion of who should get credit for taking on voting rights is what historians are examining in the film.

Writing in The Washington Post, former Johnson domestic policy aide Joseph Califano criticized filmmaker DuVernay for ignoring history, and particularly for suggesting that Johnson set the FBI to investigate King.

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The Wrap

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