Ms Winfrey will play Annie Lee Cooper, a civil rights hero, who gained notoriety in 1965 for a confrontation with then Sheriff James G. Clark, outside the Dallas County (in Selma) courthouse, where she was attempting to register to vote. The 54-year-old Cooper was ordered to go home by the Sheriff; according to reports I read, she claimed that he poked her in the back of the neck with either a billy club or a cattle prod, which prompted her to turn around and deliver a solid right hook to the sheriff’s jaw, dropping him to the ground.
Deputies wrestled Cooper down on the ground, arrested her, charged her with assault, and attempted murder. Newspapers from the time said she was detained in jail for 11 hours. Sheriff’s deputies eventually released her because they were afraid Clark would come back in and beat her.
As she sat in jail, Martin Luther King Jr. made a historic speech in Brown Chapel. Here’s what he said about Cooper: “This is what happened today: Mrs. Cooper was down in that line, and they haven’t told the press the truth about it. Mrs. Cooper wouldn’t have turned around and hit Sheriff Clark just to be hitting. And of course, as you know, we teach a philosophy of not retaliating and not hitting back, but the truth of the situation is that Mrs. Cooper, if she did anything, was provoked by Sheriff Clark. At that moment, he was engaging in some very ugly business-as-usual action. This is what brought about that scene there.”
Cooper lived to see 100 years old. She passed away just 4 years ago actually, in 2010.
Paramount Pictures is also on board the Pathe UK-backed project.