In one of the opening church scenes of Selma, four little African American girls are seen having a conversation which is fatally interrupted when the church is bombed. Aside from the stunning cinematography, the shock and symbolism of attacking the innocent in a sacred place shook me to the core. It made me think of articles I’d read about numerous mosques across Sweden vandalised with Islamophobic messages scrawled along the walls; of mosques petrol bombed as people prayed. In reaction, hundreds of non-Muslim residents in Uppsala, Sweden pasted cut out paper hearts with messages of love and support and pasted them on the mosque door. This has been referred to in the media as a ‘love bomb’. In every situation we choose how to act and how to respond. Our choices define who we are and what our lives will mean when we are gone.
The human heart is capable of an astonishing range of emotions from hatred to compassion. This is illustrated in Selma by two powerful images: the close-up of a police trooper preparing for protestors by wrapping a baton in barbed wire, contrasted with scenes of people peacefully marching hand in hand, arm in arm, side by side. In Selma, scenes of the peaceful protestors at Edmund Pettus Bridge being kicked, shoved and beaten are broadcast around the country, and so Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr calls for action; all genders, ages, classes and creeds answer his call. Black stand with white. Priests and nuns stand with rabbis. As Dr King says, ‘We all have a responsibility to our fellow man…’ and woman, child, animal, environment. Selma is a reminder of the power of peaceful protest and an inspiring message to the human race, illustrating how we cannot fight violence with violence.
Like Sweden’s ‘love bomb’ of the mosque, we can only address violence through community, compassion and love. Selma reminded me of the Australian, #illridewithyou campaign, where fellow travellers of all ages, races, sexualities, genders and religions reached out to Muslims so terrified by retaliations to a fundamentalist gun siege and Islamophobic attacks, they were scared to use public transport. I thought of Malala staring down the barrel of a Taliban gun, quietly unwavering in her stand for equal rights for herself and the girls of her community.
This film is called Selma, and notably not Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr. The true power of the Civil Rights Movement and all marches towards equality is to be found not within one individual, but in community. The scenes of violence and sheer brutality in Selma made me flinch in my seat. Picture a person you love in your life, maybe your mother, lover, friend, child. Now picture that barbed wire baton inflicting a blow upon them - if that were to happen, it would wound you too. A blow inflicted against them is a blow against you. A blow inflicted against one is a blow inflicted upon us all.
If you sit and watch the news today you will see that barbed wire baton beats many sections of our global society for our gender, sexuality, race, disability, religion, class, nationality. Our identities are not only black or white; they intersect with many other issues simultaneously. I think back to those four little girls in the church in Alabama and wonder about the life they could have lived. In 2015 one in three women living now on the planet will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. That is one billion women. I wonder whether the world is a safe place yet for those four little girls, whether the struggle for equality they were part of is over?
Our city of Liverpool is full of pioneers. Many grassroots organizations have been established to address these inequalities: Gather the Women, Red Tent, Big Love Sista. We are not separated by identities - we collaborate towards a common goal. The women are gathering and rising. The men who love us rise too, calling for equality for their co-workers, friends, teachers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters. Men join the quest for gender equity all over the world, from the United Nations He for She campaign to part of One Billion Rising. We are rising to end violence, we are rising for equality. We are rising for healthy relationships and for love. We are rising for all of the people you and I hold dear. I am rising for you. Will you rise for me?
See this week's screening times for Selma at FACT