Bill Moyers offers up his perspective on the historical controversy revolving around the relationship between LBJ, MLK and the civil right's movement in the movie "Selma."
January 18, 2015

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the Oscars and the film "Selma," with many folks complaining that it was snubbed by the Academy. Scott Mendelson writes this in Forbes: Why Ava DuVernay's 'Selma' Oscar Snub Matters.

Amy Argetsinger writes in the Washington Post: What went wrong with the Oscar hopes for ‘Selma’?

Peniel Joseph writes this for NPR: 'Selma' Backlash Misses The Point

Syreeta McFadden writes in TPM: 'A Sharp White Background': What's Behind The Selma Oscars Snub?

Bill Moyers was with LBJ during this incredible time in our history and he was asked on a live chat how he felt about the movie:

During a live chat on Tuesday, January 13, Bill shared his thoughts on saving democracy, fighting corporate interests, the new film Selma, Ted Cruz’s political aspirations, President Lyndon B. Johnson and much more.

Bill: “There are some beautiful and poignant moments in the film that take us closer to the truth than anything I’ve seen to date — to the cruelty visited upon black people by everyday whites and armed authorities. To the courage and fear of those black people who put themselves on the line for freedom’s sake; the ambivalence in Martin Luther King Jr. facing the inevitability of leadership and the constant threat of death. As for Lyndon B. Johnson:

There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license suggesting the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the ‘sex tape’ to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way, way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.

Then casting the president as opposed to the Selma march, which the director does, is an exaggeration. He was concerned that coming so soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there was little political will in Congress to follow up so soon with voting rights legislation. As he said to Martin Luther King Jr., “You’re an activist; I’m a politician” and politicians read the tide of events better than most of us read the hands on our watch; he knew he needed public sentiment to gather sufficient momentum before he could introduce and quickly pass a voting rights bill. He asked King to give him more time to bring a few Southern ‘moderates’ over to the cause, but after King made the case that blacks had waited too long for too little, Johnson told him: “Then go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing.” He wouldn’t have welcome the bloodshed at the bridge, but when it happened he knew the time had come and within days he made his own famous ‘We Shall Overcome’ speech that transformed the political environment. (By the way, this is one of the weakest moments in the film.)

Also, the director has a limpid president speaking in the Senate chamber to a normal number of senators. In fact, he made that speech in the House of Representatives where the State of Union speeches are delivered. Johnson was more animated and passionate than I have ever seen him, and I was standing very near him, off to the right. The nation was electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. The film blows the possibility for true drama here — the drama of history happening right before our eyes. Nonetheless, go see it. You’ll be reminded of what happens when courage on the street is met by a moral response from power.

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