Live long enough and life can be filled with strange symmetries. Rep. John Lewis has seen that to be true several times this year. He has twice viewed the Golden Globe-nominated movie “Selma,” which depicts a series of historic civil rights marches from a small Alabama town to the state’s capitol. Lewis, who is portrayed by an actor in the film, helped to lead the protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 and found the experience of watching the events reenacted on film to be surreal.
“I grew up not far from Selma,” Lewis said in an interview this month. “When we would go to the theater as young Black children, we had to go upstairs to the balcony and all the little White children went downstairs to the first floor.” He paused for a heavy moment and continued: “Seeing myself being played is almost too much.”
Lewis, who has represented Atlanta on Capitol Hill for nearly three decades, was a leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and is an important character in “Selma,” which was released on Christmas. The movie is a tightly told narrative of the historic march for voting rights that included the vicious beating of 600 marchers by law enforcement officials on the bridge in Selma. Lewis’s head was bloodied by a lawman’s club.
That chaotic scene is shown blow for blow on the big screen. Art echoing life in a way Lewis could never have foreseen.