Tags: Selma | Lyndon Baines Johnson | Martin Luther King Jr.

Ex-Official: Film Gets It Wrong, 'Selma Was LBJ's Idea'

By    |   Monday, 29 Dec 2014 12:32 PM

A war of words has erupted between the director of Paramount Pictures' new civil rights film "Selma" and a former top official of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration over the film's alleged historical inaccuracy.

Johnson's chief of domestic affairs, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., took to the pages of The Washington Post to pen the surprising revelation that the Rev. Martin Luther King's 1965 protest march on Selma, Alabama, was actually LBJ's idea, cooked up in meetings and phone conversations between Johnson and King, and aimed at winning passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"The makers of the new movie 'Selma' apparently just couldn’t resist taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment to work as a big-screen historical drama," Califano wrote in the Post.

"As a result, the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.

"In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he 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."

However, in a series of Twitter postings, the film's director, Ava DuVernay, struck back, writing that the "notion that Selma was LBJ's idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council) and black citizens who made it so."

"Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don't take my word for it or LBJ rep's word for it. Let it come alive for yourself."

Califano, citing taped phone calls between Johnson and King and Califano's written reports on the events in Selma, wrote in the Post: "Contrary to the portrait painted by "Selma," Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. were partners in this effort. Johnson was enthusiastic about voting rights and the president urged King to find a place like Selma and lead a major demonstration.

"That’s three strikes for "Selma." The movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season."

King's historic march from Selma to the state's capital, Montgomery, began on March 9, 1965 but turned back when state troopers blocked their passage. After a U.S. district court ordered Alabama to allow the march to proceed, and Johnson backed the protesters on national television, roughly 50,000 marchers, protected by federal troops, arrived in Montgomery on March 25, History.com reports.

Mark K. Updegrove, author of "Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency", and the director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, wrote in Politico: "This characterization of the 36th president flies in the face of history. In truth, the partnership between LBJ and MLK on civil rights is one of the most productive and consequential in American history.

"Why does the film’s mischaracterization matter? Because at a time when racial tension is once again high, from Ferguson to Brooklyn, it does no good to bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the civil rights movement by suggesting that the President himself stood in the way of progress.

"LBJ’s bold position on voting rights stands as an example of what is possible when America’s leadership is at its best.

"And it has the added benefit of being true."

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A war of words has erupted between the director of Paramount Pictures' new civil rights film "Selma" and a former top official of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration over the film's alleged historical inaccuracy.
Selma, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr.
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2014-32-29
Monday, 29 Dec 2014 12:32 PM
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