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Culture Acclaimed film 'Selma' disappoints LBJ historian, top aide

Acclaimed film ‘Selma’ disappoints LBJ historian, top aide

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The widely acclaimed movie “Selma” about the 1965 Civil Rights movement has disappointed at least one moviegoer: a leading historian of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The director of the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, which hosted a major civil rights summit this year that was headlined by four U.S. presidents, said the film that opens in theaters Thursday incorrectly portrays Johnson as an obstructionist to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Selma” is based on the 1965 marches from the Alabama cities of Selma to Montgomery that were led by King. At the time, marchers were calling for voting rights.

LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove said the film unfairly casts Johnson as a sort of composite character who represents the obstacles blacks faced in getting civil rights laws passed. What history shows, Updegrove said, is that Johnson and King had a partnership.

He said Johnson and King had disagreements but not like the film suggests. Updegrove called the portrayal unfortunate given the current climate following the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police.

“When racial tension is so high, it does no good to suggest that the president of the U.S. himself stood in the way of progress a half-century ago. It flies in the face of history,” Updegrove said.

A spokeswoman for Paramount Pictures, the studio that released the film, did not immediately return messages for comment Wednesday.

“Selma” is nominated for four Golden Globe awards, including best picture for a drama and best director.

In April, Updegrove and the LBJ Library commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with a summit that included appearances by four of the five living U.S. presidents. President Barack Obama closed out the event with a speech that lauded Johnson’s congressional deal-making and push for greater racial equality.  

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