Selma: The Movie And What Really Happened

By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

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Back row: Tessa Thompson, left, as Diane Nash, Omar Dorsey as James Orange, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., André Holland as Andrew Young, Corey Reynolds as Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton in a scene from the motion picture "Selma."
(Photo: Atsushi Nishijima, Paramount Pictures)

If you watch the film Selma as a way of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, AL, you may be interested to know where historians and Hollywood differ:

Director Ava DuVernay's look at the civil rights marches in Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) has aroused controversy with its depiction of President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) as an obstructionist against the 1965 voting-rights campaign for African-Americans. Former LBJ adviser Joseph A. Califano wrote a Washington Post op-ed stating that his old boss was very much in favor of the approach.

More troubling for University of Delaware history professor Gary May is the depiction ofJ. Edgar Hoover suggesting to Johnson that the FBI send a sex tape to King's wife (Carmen Ejogo).

Another mistake: The movie shows American TV viewers watching the violent events of Bloody Sunday in real time, unlike what really happened, where ABC interrupted an airing of Judgment at Nuremberg hours later with the footage. "For many people," May says, "seeing the scenes from Selma after watching a film about Nazi atrocities, they're thinking, 'My God, what's happening to America? Are we becoming like Nazi Germany?' This is one of the most exciting and inspiring stories in American history. They didn't have to change a thing."

Selma: Then And Now

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