Whether you think it’s deserved or not, the Mormon church doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the black community. So the fact that the film Selma wasn’t showing in any theaters, on its wide release date in Rexburg, a city with an estimated 95 percent LDS population, just looked bad. The fact that it was on Civil Rights Day weekend looked even worse.
Thankfully, Paramount Theater in Rexburg decided to bring the Best Picture nominee to their screens a couple weeks later, which allowed me to finally see Selma.
Selma is a striking film that is not only beautifully shot and well acted, but one that leaves its viewers pondering on the struggle that those portrayed in the film went through. At least it seems that was the case for all who sat in the theater with me while the credits rolled.
After most films, people talk, laugh, and hurry out of the theater to their fro-yo — but not in this showing. The audience sat in silence, minds marinating on what they had just witnessed, while the song “Glory” by Common and John Legend blared through the speakers.
We have come a long way in a fairly short time. All of us should occasionally take a quiet moment to appreciate and remember how we got here. No matter your politics, the fact that we have a black President would have been considered an impossibility by many just decades ago. As a whole, we have progressed and evolved, and we should be grateful, while recognizing that we still have more to do.
Though not a major plot point, director Ava DuVernay doesn’t shy away from addressing the difficult subject of Martin Luther King Jr.’s infidelity and the strain that his leadership in the Civil Rights movement put on his marriage and family. We all have the tendency to expect perfection from our heroes but, as painful as it is sometimes, we have to face the fact that they, too, are human.
It’s an idea that seems simple enough. Flawed people can do great, heavenly-inspired things. But surprisingly, especially as Latter-day Saints, we often expect perfection from prophets who have gone out of their way to tell us otherwise. Joseph Smith himself said, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.”
We say we believe in prophets of old, but are then crestfallen when we find out that they actually lived. They lost their tempers, had uninspired theories, questioned deity, offended people, struggled with being good parents — and the list goes on. These are, like you and I, three-dimensional beings.
As my man-crush Terryl Givens said in his Letter to a Doubter, “Air brushing our prophets, past or present, is a wrenching of the scriptural record and a form of idolatry. God specifically said he called weak vessels, so we wouldn’t place our faith in their strength or power, but in God’s.”
Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” is one of the most moving and rousing speeches I’ve ever heard. The Spirit of God witnesses to me that he was a man, inspired by God, to help His will move forward. God can work through imperfect men and women who continue to try their best. To think otherwise would be putting limits on the grace of an atonement that is without limits.