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Selma: latest in a long line of great American civil rights films

How does Oscar-nominated film starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King fare against other movies?

A new historical drama, Selma, which opens in UK cinemas today, revisits the civil rights movement in the American South in the 1960s and is in the running for best picture at the Academy Awards. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay and starring British actor David Oyelowo, is based on the true story of the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Led by activists including Martin Luther King Jr, the marches were a landmark in the Civil Rights Movement, resulting in a change to the voting rights of African Americans.

Selma is the latest in a long tradition of films exploring this fraught but transformative era in recent American history. So what are some of the best civil rights films?

To Kill a Mockingbird

Based on Harper Lee's tale of racial intolerance in the Deep South, the film became an Oscar-winning triumph. Lee's book won a Pulitzer Prize and went on to sell more than 30 million copies, but most Hollywood studios weren't interested in the story of a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, says the Daily Telegraph. According to Robert Mulligan, who directed the film for Universal, "the other studios didn't want it because what's it about? It's about a middle-aged lawyer with two kids. There's no romance, no violence (except off-screen). There's no action. What is there? Where's the story?"

Guess who's Coming to Dinner

The 1967 American comedy-drama produced and directed by Stanley Kramer stars Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn as liberal middle class parents who find their values challenged when their daughter (Katharine Houghton), a free-thinking white woman, brings home her new fiancé - a black doctor (Sidney Poitier). While some believed the film dealt with issues of race too lightly, it gave Poitier his third box-office success in six months for a story in which the race of his character was at issue - the others were To Sir, With Love and In the Heat of the Night. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner also won two Academy awards for best screenplay and Hepburn's performance.

Mississippi Burning

Based on the real-life murder of civil rights activists in the South during the 1960s, the powerful 1988 film follows FBI agents Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) and Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) as they are sent to Mississippi investigate the case and meet resistance and fear in the local community. It looks at the virulent racism of the time and the links between local officials, police and the KKK. It was nominated for seven Oscars including best picture and best actor (Hackman).

Malcolm X

Spike Lee's 1992 biopic masterpiece features a great performance by Denzel Washington as the controversial civil rights activist Malcolm X. A Muslim minister and a human rights activist, Malcolm X was both admired as a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks and accused by detractors of preaching racism and violence. In the movie Selma, in a reportedly historically accurate scene, King's wife Corretta meets with Malcolm X in the hope of reconciling differences between the two activists.

Hairspray

For a light and quirky twist on a serious subject it's hard to go past John waters 1988 comedy. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the film revolves around an overweight teenager, Tracy Turnblad, as she pursues stardom as a dancer on a local TV show and rallies against racial segregation. Whiles some critics have criticised its 'camp' approach to the subject matter, it has gone on to be a cult classic, was adapted into a hit Broadway musical, and remade as a film in 2007.

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