Hollywood has come under fire recently for a lack of diversity among its most lauded filmmakers, but director Ava DuVernay broke that mold this year with Selma, a film based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Earlier this month, a group of New York-based black business leaders started a successful movement to get hundreds of thousands of students tickets to the film free of charge. This effort was so successful that it started a social media campaign using the hashtag #SelmaForStudents nationwide.
Locally, IBM executive Michael Littlejohn has played a key role in getting several Westchester theaters onboard, as the Journal News reports.
Under the initiative, free tickets will be provided (while available) to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders who can present a student ID or report card at any of the following theaters: City Center 15: Cinema de Lux in White Plains; Regal New Roc Stadium 18 in New Rochelle; and Showcase Cinema de Lux Ridge Hill in Yonkers.
Though the campaign will last only as long as Selma is in theaters, the hope is that students will leave the film with an understanding of racial tension and progress during the height of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaign.
Though Selma boasts a rare 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, teachers and parents who plan to use the film as an educational tool should be aware it does not avoid a Hollywoodization of the historical events it adapts. Journalist and news commentator Bill Moyers has called the film’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson “the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth;” An editorial in the Washington Post took a different line of criticism and charged that the film presents a meek, fearful version of Coretta Scott King that is “pure Hollywood fiction.”
Still, most critical reception has been very positive. ScreenRant’s Kofi Outlaw says of the film, “Selma manages to beautifully articulate a pivotal moment in history—one that is hauntingly ironic in how it echoes our current times and society.”
In a diverse region like Westchester—which recently weathered a racially-charged debate regarding fair housing—Selma could act as a jumping-off point for students to discuss current issues within a context of past historical events. Either way, Littlejohn urged all students to see the film.
“All students, from every background, should see it. From every background and socioeconomic level,” Littlejohn told the Journal News. “It’s important for them to understand the history.”
You can follow the conversation online by using and searching for the hashtag #SelmaForStudents on your social media platform of choice.