Skip to main content

Tom Wilkinson, left, plays President Lyndon B. Johnson and David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.

Atsushi Nishijima

Historical dramas take liberties. Just look at They Died With Their Boots On, the George Custer biopic from 1941 that infamously ran amok with the facts. Custer's men at the Battle of Little Bighorn did indeed perish with their footwear intact, but other than that, the film's relationship with history is generally considered to be loose.

Or take Selma – some of the film's detractors really wish you would. The movie about Martin Luther King and the voting rights marches in Alabama he led in 1965 is earning critical raves, but its historical accuracy is the subject of great debate, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson (by Tom Wilkinson) as an antagonist of King rather than a partner.

"What's wrong with Hollywood?" asked Joseph Califano, in a Washington Post op-ed piece. According to Califano, the President's top assistant for domestic affairs in 1965, "Selma was LBJ's idea." In a tweeted response, Selma director Ava DuVernay fired back, arguing that Califano's assertion was "jaw dropping and offensive" to the black citizens who had organized the marches.

Story continues below advertisement

Julian E. Zelizer, the author of the new book The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society, has surmised that the makers of Selma "obviously wanted to create a villain" in Johnson. On the other side, Gay Talese, a journalist who covered the events in Selma for The New York Times backed DuVernay: "She got it. I was there. I saw it. She wasn't there, but she got it."

Talese was speaking in New York at a Q&A event with DuVernay and others. Diplomatically, the director herself said that everyone "sees history through their own lens," and that she wasn't going to "argue history." But, then, she already has. In fact, it is her job to do so.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies