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Short takes

Not suitable under 15 due to themes and disturbing violent scenes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Selma
  • a review of Selma completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 17 February 2015.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not suitable due to themes and disturbing violent scenes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Selma
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Violence and coarse language
Length: 128 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Selma is a historical drama based on the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights and the involvement of Martin Luther King. It follows the story of those involved in this time of social changes and the consequences of this period upon their personal lives. The film begins as Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) accepts his Nobel Peace Prize, after which four girls are killed in an explosion that takes place in a church.

The film then features African American citizens in Selma attempting to vote and being turned away by registrars. This causes King to approach President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to request the laws be changed, thus allowing all citizens of America a right to vote. As a result of this political move, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) encourages the President to disrupt King’s marriage, as he believes he is becoming a problem.

Numerous protests occur before the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and all end in police clashing with protestors. When the Selma march finally begins, state troopers wearing gas masks use a varied arsenal of weapons against the marchers.

When the marchers finally reach Montgomery, King delivers his famous speech on the steps of the State Capitol and states that equality for all citizens of America is fast approaching.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Racism; civil rights; riots and protests; friendship and family; sacrifice

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • There are many scenes in which marchers and police engage in violent behaviour. Police use batons and tear gas to stop protestors (beating them quite severely, until blood can be seen and the protestors have trouble walking), while southern segregationists also terrorise the marchers.
  • A church is blown up, resulting in the deaths of four girls. A clergyman is also beaten to death.
  • Other murders are referred to, such as those of Robert Kennedy and Malcom X.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

Children in this age group are likely to be disturbed by the intense scenes of violence during protests and the march

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the intense scenes of violence during protests and the march

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the intense scenes of violence during protests and the march

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group are likely to be disturbed by the scenes of violence during protests and the march

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Coretta and Martin have a conversation regarding his infidelity.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some sexual activity in the film, including:

  • Several couples are seen to embrace and kiss
  • King’s wife listens to a recording of two people having sex – she believes the man on the recording to be her husband.

Use of substances

None of concern

Coarse language

There is some use of coarse language in the film, including:

  • ‘fuck’; ‘bullshit’; ‘ass’; ‘shit’; ‘Goddamn’; ‘bastard’
  • Racial slurs are also used frequently, such as ‘nigger’, ‘negroes’, ‘coon’

In a nutshell

Selma is an inspiring dramatisation of the historical events that occurred during the lead-up to the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march. The film offers a perspective on the challenges faced by the anti-segregationists in America during that period, as well as the eventual changes that occurred as a result of their protests.

People are presented as human, with flaws as well as strengths. For example, the film explores Martin Luther King’s infidelity as well as his great accomplishments in regards to the civil rights movement. Moreover, the film highlights the strength and capacity of the human spirit to overcome even the most difficult obstacles.

Due to its themes and scenes of intense violence during protests, the film is not suitable for children under 15, but it is a valuable discussion-starter for older adolescents

Issues for discussion with older children include:

  • The importance of being prepared to protest and stand up for your beliefs.
  • Violence is not the best way to achieve a goal or convey a message effectively
  • All people have flaws and sometimes make mistakes, but it is the manner in which you address those situations that defines you as a person.
  • The importance of treating people equally, and the conversely devastating impact that racism may have upon society and its individuals.