Before I came to dislike the movie “Selma,” I was deeply moved by it. Twice it brought me to tears. A crane shot of Martin Luther King Jr. leading thousands of demonstrators over the Edmund Pettus Bridge was one such moment, and so was the vicious attack on John Lewis — bravely, steadfastly walking into the beating he knew was coming. Today, Lewis is a member of Congress. Forever, he’ll be an American hero.
But the movie smears John to create dramatic tension, writes Cohen.
. . . “Selma” asserts that King had to persuade and pressure a recalcitrant Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The movie also depicts Johnson authorizing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to smear King and — as King himself suspected — try to drive him to suicide. It is a profoundly ugly moment.
But a bevy of historians say it never happened. It was Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, who authorized the FBI’s bugging of King’s hotel rooms.
Kennedy, still a “liberal icon,” doesn’t appear in the movie.
Johnson “considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him,” writes Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former aide, in a Post op-ed.
“Johnson was enthusiastic about voting rights” and urged King to “find a place like Selma and lead a major demonstration,” writes Califano. The LBJ-MLK telephone conversation on the subject is available on the LBJ Presidential Library Web site.
Students will watch Selma to understand the civil rights movement. They’ll believe its version of history.