Edward Rothstein asks, “Whose History Is It, Anyway?” in the Wall Street Journal, and don’t miss this important section on the recent movie “Selma”:
“Selma” is more complicated. You might conclude from the film that President Lyndon Johnson’s staff was untrustworthy on civil rights, while Johnson himself was actually nefarious, regardeding Martin Luther King Jr. with nasty condescension. “You listen to me!” he scolds King. “I am sick and tired of you demanding and telling me what I can and can’t do!” As punishment for King’s uppityness, he sics J. Edgar Hoover on him.
None of this is true. And this is not a negligible distortion. King’s conversations with Johnson are crucial: Legislative success justifies King’s strategy. So why is Johnson turned into a near villain, seeing light only when King forces his hand? “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie,” Ms. DuVernay has said. “Black people,” she has asserted, “should tell their own stories from their own perspectives.” She wanted a history in which African-Americans determined their own fates instead of seeming like passive recipients of Johnson’s good will. So instead we have Johnson’s bad will. Ms. Du Vernay alters history in order to control it; we hear the gears clanking, nearly undermining the powerful history she gets right.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor . . .” (Eph 4:25).