Bill Clinton Gushes Over Selma: I Stood Up and Started Cheering All By Myself

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘s refreshing portrayal of leadership.

Former President Clinton sang the praises of the Oscar-snubbed Selma at the King Center’s Annual Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner in Atlanta, Georgia. The conversation was ostensibly going to be about King’s proposal that Johnson should appoint a black person to a Cabinet-level post, according to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

The new, acclaimed motion picture Selma suggests that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was not an ardent supporter of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that he and Dr. Outrage over the Oscar snubbing of Selma, especially in its failure to recognize David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay in the key Best Actor and Best Director categories, has been loud. Thanks to donations, DC public school kids got free tickets to the first Hollywood movie about the Rev Martin Luther King jnr on his birthday weekend – an effort duplicated for students around the country. At one point, Johnson — already a footnote in the 1960s — talked at King, who now has a federal holiday in his honor, urging King to be more like Adolf Hitler in order to make civil rights arguments.

Both men worked very hard to create a society in which all people had the right to vote, access to medical care, decent housing and funding for education. In my view, history will show that no American president played as critical a role in the advancement of civil rights ‘ fair housing and education than Johnson. But I think that you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination where a man’s got to memorize [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow or whether he’s got to quote the first 10 Amendments or he’s got to tell you what amendment 15 and 16 and 17 is, and then ask them if they know and show what happens.

In a delicately wrought scene in which Coretta Scott King calls out her husband about his infidelities, some of the teenage girls reacted with a chorus of “oooohs”. More often than not, movies and TV shows have a tin ear for politics, but this is a piece of mass-market art that is perfectly pitched to the current political moment. In addition to the two landmark civil rights measures, the nation also witnessed the passage of legislation that introduced Medicaid and Medicare during the Johnson administration.

DuVernay sets the tone for her portrayal of Lyndon B Johnson as patronising and skittish on civil rights in the first scene between the president and King. In fact, federal legislation that prohibited housing discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing based on race, national origin or religion was signed into law by Johnson.

LBJ stands above a seated MLK, pats him on the shoulder, and tells him “this voting thing is just going to have to wait” while he works on “eradication of poverty”. I don’t want to follow [Adolf] Hitler, but he had a — he had a[n] idea… Johnson: …that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it often enough, even if it wasn’t true, why, people accept it. The federal housing legislation, which became a model for many state legislatures, became law on April 11, 1968, just seven days after King’s assassination. But we’d have to say they’re being a little overly sensitive. “Selma” gets some basic facts wrong and may not give Johnson his full due, but it ultimately portrays LBJ as a president who wanted to be on the right of history — and as a man who wanted to be on the right side of his conscience. Good-naturedly referencing his friend Andrew Young—who marched with King and is prominent in the film—early in his speech, Clinton told the sold-out crowd, “I saw Andy earlier today and I said, ‘Andy, I just watched Selma.

Were you ever that thin?’ (eliciting thunderous laughter) and he said yes, he was, that they were dodging so many bullets in droves they all used to be thin.” As he continued to speak, he got decidedly more serious. “If you haven’t yet, go see the movie Selma,” he insisted, “and you will see the enormous pressures imposed on the King family and friends.” Clinton made it clear, however, that it was King’s philosophy of a “beloved community” that Selma most affirmed for him. “I was reminded all over again when I was sitting through Selma,” he shared. “You know it wasn’t like I didn’t live through it,” the 68-year-old Clinton confided, “and I swear [it was] just like it was the first time. That’s not fair.” Johnson: And if we do that, we’ll break through as — it’ll be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting this [19]64 [Civil Rights] Act. Over the years, as it happens, Hollywood has frequently exaggerated the contributions of white figures in the civil rights movement while minimizing the more important — and more courageous — efforts of African Americans to win their own rights and freedoms. Case in point would be the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning,” a badly fictionalized account of the investigation into the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. We all want to think we can do great things because we have a launching pad,” he preached. “Fifty years ago a lot of people took a lot of chances walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just showing up at the church one Sunday in Birmingham, driving people back home after they had been a part of some group or activity,” he later emphasized. “To get up and walk through the day and breathe was a chance.” Not losing sight of Dr.

The murders of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson and the white clergyman James Reeb tear at King’s heart and conscience, and he finds it difficult to proceed. DuVernay told Rolling Stone that, originally, the script was more centred on the LBJ-MLK relationship and was “much more slanted to Johnson”. “I wasn’t interested in making a white-saviour movie,” she said. King was in Memphis, across the river from my native state, helping the sanitation workers on his way to kick-off the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. because the beloved community is about the inclusive economics of giving everybody a chance to work and be rewarded for it and to rise as high as they can.” And perhaps this is what most angers people about this year’s Oscar nominations.

Hollywood has done that with films like Mississippi Burning, which cast white FBI agents as the heroes, or Cry Freedom, which made a white journalist the focus rather than Denzel Washington’s anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Ultimately the makeup of the Academy, which is 93 percent white, 76 percent male, and an average age of 63, mirrors those old, white men in Selma and throughout the South who used their power to silence the voices—artistic, or otherwise—of those unlike themselves.

King’s spectacular oratorical gifts (ably imitated by British actor David Oyelowo, though he does not quite reach the mesmerizing charisma of the real thing) are correctly shown as hugely energizing and inspiring, and his brilliant political sense is similarly demonstrated. DuVernay and Oyelowo have brought the pages of history so thrillingly alive that they’ve captured the attention of two of our nation’s most esteemed leaders.

Valenti said that his boss talked to him about it the night of J.F.K.’s assassination in the bedroom of Johnson’s house in D.C., The Elms, before the newly sworn-in president went to sleep. The importance of Johnson’s work was celebrated in Austin last year by ordinary citizens, President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.

As I have written about Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, and as the New York Review of Books makes clear about The Imitation Game, the truth is dramatic and fascinating enough. Edgar Hoover on MLK, a prelude to the infamous suicide letter to King’s house, an event that occurred long before the Selma marches and not on the orders of Johnson. I believe legislation guaranteeing equal rights to minorities would not have passed Congress but for his fortitude and his belief in the equality of all people.

Pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, ‘Well, that’s not right, that’s not fair,’ and then that will help us on what we’re going to shove through [Congress] in the end.” Successful social movements, like most people, are complicated things. DuVernay had plenty of vile white villains — including one who kicks a minister to death in the street — and they were no doubt shocking to the D.C. school kids. If Johnson, a white country boy who rose to power in the segregated South, eventually became a real partner to King, it was because he had been brought along by a long line of great Americans, from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks to King.

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