I got up this morning determined to go see Selma today. I wanted to make sure I saw it while it was in theaters so that my watching it would contribute to the viewership numbers for the film. This is important when I want to support films created by black people. Opening weekend is the most ideal time to go watch the movie but I try to make it no later than the second weekend. Those tend to be the times that people look at when they’re determining whether a film is doing well or not.
I didn’t make it out during Christmas when the film opened here in Atlanta. I was dragging my feet to go see it, and it took me a minute to recognize why. I was afraid to go see Selma.
I remember the anger I felt after seeing Rosewood in the theater. I also remember sitting for several minutes after watching Precious as tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t stop crying. Both movies were really upsetting for different reasons. I blame it on the way I watch movies. I like to immerse myself in the story. If the characters experience great emotion, so do I. It can be both thrilling and exhausting. When it comes to movies made about the struggles of black people, I tend to shy away from those. I feel those struggles all too deeply. I’ve read up on enough things to know that they happened. I don’t need to be educated about them.
But I realize that this isn’t the best way to be. I don’t want to shrink away from the truth. I want to confront it head on. So with this resolve I headed to the theater to watch Selma. After the opening scene, I knew I would be in for an emotional roller coaster. It was a great movie that is quite timely and really gave me some insight into what it takes to enact change. Yes, it was about the march from Selma to Montgomery to give blacks the unencumbered right to vote. But, for me, it was a glimpse into the organization and strategy required to build a movement. It really opened my eyes to our current movement of #BlackLivesMatter behind the public killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and countless others at the hands of police officers.
It also gave me new insight into the idea of hash tag activism. I heard a snippet of Shonda Rhimes’s commencement speech where she talked about hash tag activism. She said that hash tags were pretty but not ultimately action. I have to disagree. One of the reasons why the Trayvon Martin case became such a big deal is because of hash tag activism. People learned about the injustice and took to Twitter to discuss it. When things were happening in Ferguson over the summer, it was the people tweeting, Facebooking, Youtubing and telling the story digitally that kept the story relevant. But if their stories hadn’t been shared by people in their living rooms, cars, coffee shops and other places, it wouldn’t have been as big of a story or lasted as long.
One of the reasons why the civil rights movement worked is because King would do things to entice the press to cover them. When the press would cover the marches, speeches and other nonviolent protests, it would tell the story on a much larger stage. Black people have been bullied by police officers for years. It’s not a secret that the police may or may not be trustworthy if you’re black and need their help. While this doesn’t apply to all police officers, it applies enough to be a longstanding issue. So while the killings that took place over the summer were upsetting, they weren’t surprising or shocking to many people. But this time, rather than these things happening in isolated silos, outraging a community, they happened in a time where we have social media.
So now the rest of the world’s attention is being brought to things that have been happening in the black community for decades because of social media. Hash tag activism is action. It shouldn’t be the only action, but it is a viable tool. After watching Selma, I realize that we have our stage.