All eight movies nominated for best picture in this year’s Oscar race are about men, and all but one of them are about white men. Some are ordinary men living ordinary lives, as in the coming-of-age masterpiece Boy­hood. Many are exceptional men in ex­ceptional circumstances, as in American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, Whip­lash, and The Imitation Game. Others are eccentrics who win our hearts with their fervent resistance to normalcy, as in Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. But in a year of collective protest and activism, of public debate about the meaning of our social union, these stories of lone heroes seem out of touch with the times.

The one exception on the list is Selma, about the civil rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in 1965 to secure voting rights for black citizens. Selma is also about a great male leader, Martin Luther King Jr., and actor David Oyelowo highlights his brilliance, charisma, and leadership. But the film is not just the story of King’s life, and not just the story of one particular campaign. Rather, it captures something more elusive in our fictions and in our politics: the feeling and dynamic of a collective movement.

The film opens with King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, a great set piece for a “great man” story. But after quickly emphasizing King’s singularity and international acclaim, the film places him back within the tussle of an unwieldy movement. King’s voice becomes one of many in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who are debating what issues the group will pursue and what tactics they will employ.