On Saturday night, Ava DuVernay brought a short clip of her upcoming film Selma (opening Christmas Day) to the Urbanworld Film Festival in NYC. (As Ava put it: “Jason Reitman takes his films to Toronto. I take my films to Urbanworld. It is home.”)
Keep in mind that we only saw two scenes for a total of five minutes, but there were a few takeaways from those scenes, as well as the Q&A, which included David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film. A couple of details about the film: This is a look at three months in King’s life. It is not a cradle-to-grave biopic. After the successes of 12 Years a Slave and The Butler, Selma got a greenlight, but it was really not until Oprah Winfrey got involved (as a producer, and yes, she is also in it) that the project started to move forward.
What I learned:
1. David Oyelowo convinced the producers of the film that they needed to hire Ava DuVernay to direct the film after he worked with her on Middle of Nowhere.
I found the lovefest between Ava and David to be quite moving. He trusted her. As he said, she made this English guy (Oyelowo) into a bus driver from Compton in Middle of Nowhere, and now she’s made this same English guy one of the most iconic figures in recent American history with Selma.
2. I know that the field is crowded for the male actors this year (when is it not crowded, since there are so many more movies about men?) but you would be a fool not to take Oyelowo’s performance seriously for awards consideration.
You could tell that seeing himself onscreen for the first time as King was eerie. He was so freaked out that he was visibly emotional, as was everyone else in the theatre. He is that good. And as he said, “If Meryl Streep can play Margaret Thatcher, I can play Dr. King.” Remember, that film won her an Oscar.
3. 12 Years a Slave may have been about our history, but Selma is about our present.
The overtones of what is going on in this country today are so present in this film that I believe it will become one of those must-see films where our recent past reflects eerily on our present and helps lead a cultural conversation. The fact that this country is rolling back the right to vote all over the place and people are having to fight again for rights that were won not too long ago makes this movie so relevant right now.
4. Ava DuVernay will become an even bigger force to be reckoned with, and could break the glass ceiling by being the first woman of color to get an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
Middle of Nowhere cost $200,000; Selma cost $20 million. Middle of Nowhere was released by Ava and AFFRM; Selma is being released by Paramount. Big jump. But I’m not worried one bit about this movie not being good. That’s how much I believe in her vision and talent. If you saw the photos on social media from the set and read her posts, then saw these five minutes that Ava literally just took off the editing machine to bring to NY, you will know she is the real deal. The second scene she showed us, of the march to the Selma courthouse to get in the door and sign up to vote, was pretty powerful.
And let’s be clear, while this movie is about a man, women will be in the movie. They won’t just be ancillary figures, and that is because of Ava.
“I always knew that MLK was badass, but he’s been homogenized to a speech and a statue,” she noted. Ava said that Selma was about making the movie that she wants to see. The fact that she is a 42-year-old African-American woman raised in Compton makes this a whole new game. I want to see the movie she wants to see, too.