Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ava DuVernay|
|Written by||Paul Webb|
|Music by||Jason Moran|
|Edited by||Spencer Averick|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures
|Box office||$59.3 million|
Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, and Martin Luther King, Jr. of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC. The film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and rapper and actor Common as Bevel.
Selma premiered at the American Film Institute Festival on November 11, 2014, began a limited U.S. release on December 25, and expanded into wide theatrical release on January 9, 2015, two months before the 50th anniversary of the march. The film got a re-release on March 20, 2015 in the honor of the 50th anniversary of the historical march.
Selma had four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song. It was also nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.
In 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepts his Nobel Peace Prize. Four African-American girls are shown walking down the stairs of the 16th Street Baptist Church, talking. An explosion goes off, killing all four girls and injuring others. In Selma, Alabama, Annie Lee Cooper attempts to register to vote but is prevented by the white registrar. King meets with President Lyndon B. Johnson and asks for federal legislation to allow black citizens to register to vote unencumbered. Johnson says he has more important projects.
King travels to Selma with Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, James Orange, and Diane Nash. James Bevel greets them, and other SCLC activists appear. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover tells Johnson that King is a problem, and suggests they disrupt his marriage. Coretta Scott King has concerns about her husband's upcoming work in Selma. King calls singer Mahalia Jackson to inspire him with song. King, other SCLC leaders, and black Selma residents march to the registration office to register. After a confrontation in front of the courthouse a shoving match occurs as the police go into the crowd. Cooper fights back, knocking Sheriff Jim Clark to the ground, leading to the arrest of Cooper, King, and others.
Alabama Governor George Wallace speaks out against the movement. Coretta meets with Malcolm X, who says he will drive whites to ally with King by advocating a more extreme position. Wallace and Al Lingo decide to use force at an upcoming night march in Marion, Alabama, using state troopers to assault the marchers. A group of protesters runs into a restaurant to hide, but troopers rush in and beat and shoot Jimmie Lee Jackson. King and Bevel meet with Cager Lee, Jackson's grandfather, at the morgue. King speaks to ask people to continue to fight for their rights. The Kings receive threats to their children, and King is criticized by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
As the Selma to Montgomery march is about to begin, King talks to Young about cancelling it, but Young convinces King to persevere. The marchers, including John Lewis of SNCC, Hosea Williams of SCLC, and Selma activist Amelia Boynton, cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and approach a line of state troopers who put on gas masks. The troopers ask the marchers to turn back, and when they hold their ground the troppers attack with clubs, horses, tear gas, and other weapons. Lewis and Boynton are among those badly injured. The attack is shown on national television as the wounded are treated at Brown Chapel, the movement's headquarter church. Movement attorney Fred Gray asks federal Judge Frank Minis Johnson to let the march go forward. President Johnson demands that King and Wallace stop their actions, and sends John Doar to convince King to postpone the next march.
White Americans, including Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb, arrive to join the second march. Marchers cross the bridge again and see the state troopers lined up, but the troopers turn aside to let them pass. King, after praying, turns around and leads the group away, and again comes under sharp criticism from SNCC activists. That evening Reeb is beaten by two white men on the street, and King is told of his death. Judge Johnson allows the march. President Johnson speaks before a Joint Session of Congress to ask for quick passage of a bill to eliminate restrictions on voting. In his speech Johnson praises the courage of the activists and proclaims "We shall overcome".
The march on the highway to Montgomery takes place, and when the marchers reach Montgomery King delivers a speech on the steps of the State Capitol. King concludes by saying that equality for African Americans is approaching.
- David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson
- Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King
- Andre Holland as Andrew Young
- Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash
- Giovanni Ribisi as Lee C. White
- Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton Robinson
- Stephan James as John Lewis
- Wendell Pierce as Hosea Williams
- Common as James Bevel
- Alessandro Nivola as John Doar
- Keith Stanfield as Jimmie Lee Jackson
- Cuba Gooding Jr. as Fred Gray
- Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover
- Tim Roth as George Wallace
- Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper
- Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Bayard Rustin
- Niecy Nash as Richie Jean Jackson
- Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy
- Omar Dorsey as James Orange
- Ledisi Young as Mahalia Jackson
- Trai Byers as James Forman
- Kent Faulcon as Sullivan Jackson
- John Lavelle as Roy Reed
- Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee
- Jeremy Strong as James Reeb
- Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X
- Charity Jordan as Viola Lee Jackson
- Haviland Stillwell as Johnson's Secretary
- Tara Ochs as Viola Liuzzo
- Martin Sheen as Frank Minis Johnson
- Michael Shikany as Archbisop Iakovos
- Michael Papajohn as Major John Cloud
- Stephen Root as Al Lingo
- Stan Houston as Sheriff Jim Clark
- E. Roger Mitchell as Frederick D. Reese
On June 18, 2008, Variety reported that screenwriter Paul Webb had written an original story about Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson for Celador's Christian Colson, which would be co-produced with Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment. In 2009 Lee Daniels was reportedly in early talks to direct the film, with financing by Pathé, and with Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner of Plan B as co-producers, and the participation of Cloud Eight Films. In 2010 reports indicated The Weinstein Company would join Pathe and Plan B to finance the $22 million film, but by the next month Daniels had signed on with Sony to re-write and direct The Butler. In an interview in August 2010, Daniels said financing was there for the Selma project, but he had to choose between The Butler and Selma, and chose The Butler.
In July 2013, it was announced that Ava DuVernay had signed on to direct the film for Pathé UK and Plan B, and that she was revising the script with the original screenwriter, Paul Webb. DuVernay estimated that she re-wrote 90 percent of Webb's original script. Those revisions included rewriting King's speeches, because, in 2009, King's estate licensed them to DreamWorks Pictures and Warner Bros. for an untitled project to be produced by Steven Spielberg. Subsequent negotiations between those companies and Selma's producers did not lead to an agreement. DuVurnay drafted alternative speeches that evoke the historic ones without violating the copyright. She recalled spending hours listening to King's words while hiking the canyons of Los Angeles. While she did not think she would "get anywhere close to just the beauty and that nuance of his speech patterns", she did identify some of King's basic structure, such as a tendency to speak in triplets: saying one thing in three different ways.
In 2010, Daniels (who was the attached director at the time) confirmed that the lead role of Martin Luther King Jr. would be played by British actor David Oyelowo. King was one of four main roles all played by British actors (the others roles being those of King's wife, President Johnson, and Alabama Governor Wallace). Actors who had confirmed in 2010 but who did not appear in the 2014 production include Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman, Cedric the Entertainer, Lenny Kravitz, and Liam Neeson.
On March 26, 2014, British actor Tom Wilkinson was added to the cast to play U.S President Lyndon B. Johnson. On April 7, it was announced that British actor Carmen Ejogo would play Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King. On April 15, actor and rapper Keith Stanfield had reportedly joined the cast to play civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot and killed on a nighttime march and whose death led James Bevel to initiate the Selma to Montgomery marches. On April 22, Lorraine Toussaint joined the cast to portray Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was very active in the Selma movement before SCLC arrived and was the first African-American woman in Alabama to run for Congress. On April 25, it was announced that Ledisi had been added to the cast to play Mahalia Jackson, a singer and friend of King. On May 7, Andre Holland joined the cast to play politician and civil rights activist Andrew Young. On May 8, Tessa Thompson was cast to play the role of Diane Nash, a civil rights activist and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On May 9, Deadline confirmed the role of Common as James Bevel, the Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On May 16, Trai Byers was added to the cast to play James Forman, a civil rights leader active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And on June 20, Deadline cited the role of Colman Domingo as SCLC activist Ralph Abernathy.
On May 28, Stephan James was confirmed portraying the role of SNCC activist John Lewis in the film. On May 29, Wendell Pierce joined the film to play civil rights leader Hosea Williams. On May 30, Cuba Gooding, Jr. was set to play civil rights attorney and activist Fred Gray. On June 3, British actor Tim Roth signed on to play Alabama governor George Wallace. On June 4, Niecy Nash joined the cast to play Richie Jean Jackson, wife of Dr. Sullivan Jackson played by Kent Faulcon, while John Lavelle joined to play Roy Reed, a reporter covering the march for The New York Times. On June 10, it was announced that the film's producer, Oprah Winfrey, would also portray Annie Lee Cooper, a 54-year-old woman who tried to register to vote and was denied by Sheriff Clark – whom she then punched in the jaw and knocked down. Jeremy Strong joined the cast to play James Reeb, a white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston and murdered civil rights activist. On June 12, it was reported that Giovanni Ribisi joined the cast to play Lee C. White, an adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on strategies regarding the Civil Rights Movement. Alessandro Nivola also joined to play John Doar, a civil rights activist and attorney general for civil rights for the Department of Justice in the 1960s. Dylan Baker was added to the cast to play FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover , who carried out extensive investigations of King and his associates, on July 17.
Principal photography began May 20, 2014, around Atlanta, Georgia. Filming took place around Marietta Square and Rockdale County Courthouse in Conyers. The Conyers scene involved a portrayal of federal judge Frank Minis Johnson, who ruled that the third and final march could go forward. In Newton County, Georgia, filming took place at Flat Road, Airport Road, Gregory Road, Conyers, Brown, Ivy and Emory Streets, exteriors on Lee Street, and an interior night shoot at the Townhouse Café on Washington St.
In Alabama, scenes were shot in Selma, centering on the Bloody Sunday march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and at Montgomery, Alabama, where, in 1965, King led civil rights demonstrators down Dexter Avenue toward the Alabama State Capitol at the conclusion of the third march from Selma.
Common (who plays James Bevel) and John Legend released the accompanying track "Glory" in December 2014, ahead of the film's theatrical release. A protest anthem, "Glory" references the 2014 Ferguson protests and earned a Golden Globe for Best Original Song as well as an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Selma premiered in Grauman's Egyptian Theatre at AFI Fest on November 11, 2014, in Los Angeles for which it received a standing ovation. The film opened in limited release in the USA, including Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlanta, on December 25, 2014, before its wide opening on January 9, 2015.
The film was screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015 . It was released by Pathé February 6, 2015 in the United Kingdom. On March 20, 2015, the film got a re-release by Paramount to honor the remarkable march's 50th anniversary.
Selma will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 5, 2015.
Selma received acclaim from critics, particularly for its acting and direction. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 99%, based on 200 reviews, with an average rating of 8.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Fueled by a gripping performance from David Oyelowo, Selma draws inspiration and dramatic power from the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. — but doesn't ignore how far we remain from the ideals his work embodied." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 89 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times praised the film as "an important history lesson that never feels like a lecture. Once school is back in session, every junior high school class in America should take a field trip to see this movie." Joe Morgenstern, writing for The Wall Street Journal, wrote: "At its best, Ava DuVernay's biographical film honors Dr. King's legacy by dramatizing the racist brutality that spurred him and his colleagues to action." A.O. Scott of The New York Times praised the acting, directing, writing, and cinematography, and wrote: "Even if you think you know what’s coming, “Selma” hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: "DuVernay's look at Martin Luther King's 1965 voting-rights march against racial injustice stings with relevance to the here and now. Oyelowo's stirring, soulful performance as King deserves superlatives." David Denby, writing for The New Yorker, wrote: "This is cinema, more rhetorical, spectacular, and stirring than cable-TV drama." Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post gave the film four stars,[clarification needed] and wrote: "With Selma, director Ava DuVernay has created a stirring, often thrilling, uncannily timely drama that works on several levels at once ... she presents [Martin Luther King, Jr.] as a dynamic figure of human-scale contradictions, flaws and supremely shrewd political skills."
Praise was not unanimous. Glen Ford, editor of Black Agenda Report, criticized the film as a product of the "conservative Black political worldview" of producer and star Oprah Winfrey, writing that it "insults Black SNCC civil rights heroes" but protects "the white, rich Kennedys". Writing about why Selma was not nominated for more Academy Awards, Adolph Reed, Jr., political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, opined that "now it’s the black (haute) bourgeoisie that suffers injustice on behalf of the black masses."
As in many other films, the historical accuracy of the story has been the subject of controversy about the degree to which artistic license should be used in historical fiction. The film was criticized by some for the omission of various individuals or groups historically associated with the Selma marches while others challenged how particular historical figures in the script were represented. Most controversy in the media centered around the film's portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with King. To many, Johnson was seen as a champion of civil rights legislation and a proactive partner of King, whereas the film is accused of falsely depicting the President as a reluctant or obstructionist political actor that had the FBI monitor and harass King. Notable criticism came from two Johnson associates: LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove and Joseph A. Califano, Jr.. Having served as Johnson's top domestic policy assistant (including on issues of civil rights) and as U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Califano questioned whether the writer and director felt "free to fill the screen with falsehoods, immune from any responsibility to the dead, just because they thought it made for a better story".
SCLC activist and official, and later U.S. Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young, told The Washington Post that the depiction of the relationship between Johnson and King “was the only thing I would question in the movie. Everything else, they got 100 percent right." According to Young, the two were always mutually respectful, and King respected Johnson’s political problems. On television, Young pointed out that it was U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who had signed the order which allowed the FBI to monitor King and other SCLC members and that it happened before Johnson took office.
The film's lack of inclusion of American Jews known to have taken active roles in the Civil Rights Movement is accented in the omission of Dr. King's association with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel appears with Dr. King and others in the historic photograph of the front row of marchers.
Director DuVernay and U.S. Representative John Lewis (whom the film portrays when a young man) responded separately that the film Selma is a work of art about the people of Selma, not a documentary. DuVernay said in an interview that she did not see herself as "a custodian of anyone's legacy". In response to criticisms that she rewrote history to portray her own agenda, DuVernay said that the movie is "not a documentary. I'm not a historian. I'm a storyteller". Lewis wrote in an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times: "We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?"
- Selma, Lord, Selma, a 1999 film featuring the Selma to Montgomery marches and some of the same events and characters.
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"Let It Go" from
|Academy Award for Best Original Song