'Selma' director and star say the film is touching on a cultural movement | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

Current Conditions


'Selma' director and star say the film is touching on a cultural movement

Ava DuVernay, left, director of the film "Selma," and cast member, David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King Jr., pose together at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, in this Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
January 05, 2015 - 1:45 PM

TORONTO - It may seem surprising, but up until the creation of the new film "Selma," there had been no major motion picture that focused on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., or his involvement in the civil rights marches that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Director Ava DuVernay said she finds that fact "incredible" but she also feels that "the time is right" for such a feature.

"With all the unrest and all of the toxicity around race relations that's going on around America right now, maybe it was on hold for a reason," she said. "We really feel like our piece is meeting this cultural movement in a really dynamic way. It's nothing we could have planned but I think the film and the times that we're in are speaking to each other."

In theatres Friday, "Selma" sees David Oyelowo playing King in 1965 as he teams up with activists in Selma, Ala., where only two per cent of black citizens were registered to vote. Hundreds join their voting rights demonstrations, which begin peacefully but turn violent when state troopers begin attacking marchers, forcing King to appeal to President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson).

Written by Paul Webb, the star-studded cast also includes Carmen Ejogo as King's wife Coretta, Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey (who is also a producer) as Annie Lee Cooper.

Oyelowo said he finds it "unsettling" that the film is coming out at a time when civil rights protests are raging in the U.S. amid recent killings of unarmed African Americans by police.

"Unsettling because 'Selma' the film now typifies just how little has changed," said the British star, who is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the role.

"A lot has changed but nowhere near enough, and to be perfectly honest, I have been disturbed by the fact that since President Obama came into power, this phrase 'post-racial America' has crept into the psyche. I think anyone, regardless of your opinions about what's going on, can see that we do not live in a post-racial America and I guess that's a good byproduct of all of this.

"Another good byproduct is the fact that young people are being galvanized to protest peacefully as well, but it's an undeniable movement that is now building, and our prayer and our hope is that that won't peter out and that 'Selma' will further accentuate the reasons why we need leadership, we need strategy and we need this conversation to keep evolving."

Oyelowo said he followed the development of "Selma" for years, always with the hope of playing King. He pushed for DuVernay to be the director because they worked well together on 2012's "Middle of Nowhere" and he felt she was "someone who really had a hold on character, on emotion, on emotional drive."

"If you're going to play Dr. King, that is what you need," he said. "What you don't need is to further accentuate the speeches or further accentuate the canonization or the deification of the man. You need someone who's going to help you get under that to the human essence of him."

DuVernay wanted to show "the full array of what went into creating a change in the world."

"It was a band of brothers and sisters who did the work," she said. "There was a leader, it was King, but it felt disingenuous to only kind of lift him up and not really tell the story of these warriors who fought alongside him."

DuVernay's father hails from Alabama and she said the stories he told her about the events in Selma "were completely embedded" in his raising her.

"There's a pride but there's also a real tragic sense of dreams deferred in that place and yet a triumph of folks who've just overcome state-sanctioned terrorism in Alabama for many, many decades," she said.

"So the strength of that and the dignity of that is all something that I tried to weave into every single scene, every single line, every single frame of 'Selma.'"

DuVernay shot much of the film in Alabama at landmarks that were part of the movement, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Some civil rights leaders from that time, including congressman John Lewis and Ambassador Andrew Young, were on set.

"As an actor, to have John Lewis approach me the first time I met him — I had the weight on, I looked as much like Dr. King as I could — and he came up to me and he said, 'Dr. King, it is so nice to see you,'" recalled Oyelowo.

"To have that on a day in which you're going to go in and do scenes, you just can't put a price on it, really. So it was hugely valuable. And then tough things as well. Shooting on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that is named after someone who was the leader of the Ku Klux Klan decades and decades ago, and it's still called that in a place where black bodies were broken, it's just something that hangs in the air."

Rapper Common plays activist James Bevel in the film and also co-wrote the song "Glory" for the soundtrack. The tune mentions not only the events in Selma but also Ferguson, Miss., where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a policeman in August.

"I think that Ferguson is a cultural moment that's going to be resonating for a long, long time in the same way that Selma is now," said DuVernay. "Some day some filmmaker will make a film about Ferguson and the question will be: where will we be at that point?

"If a film is made about Ferguson 50 years from now, will we be saying, 'Wow, it's the same thing repeated?' Or will we be able to say there's been progression in terms of the issues of the day?"

— Follow @VictoriaAhearn on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

  • Popular vernon News
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile