Just in time for Oscar consideration, “Selma” opens Christmas Day in limited release. The film explores the tumultuous period in 1965 in which Martin Luther King, Jr. led three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in pursuit of equal voting rights for African Americans. The marches resulted in the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Ava DuVernay directs, David Oyelowo plays the inspiring civil rights leader, and Tom Wilkinson portrays the president. The director, cast, and producers (most notably Oprah Winfrey) have been hitting the publicity circuits hard in advance of the film’s release, and what they have to say is so often fascinating.
Last month, the cast and director held a Q&A about “Selma” at AFI Fest. In the first clip from the discussion, Winfrey, DuVernay, and Oyelowo chat with moderator Alfre Woodard. What’s impressive is how much everyone involved—especially DuVernay and Winfrey—attribute the film to Oyelowo’s vision and persistence. The actor initially brought DuVernay on board, though she insists that the project couldn’t have happened without him. A little later, Oyelowo talks about his divine inspiration for the film. Literally. According to him, “Very soon after my wife and I moved to this country, I was told, from above, that I would play this role. On the 24th of July, 2007. And I couldn’t believe it, so I wrote it down. That’s how I know the date.”
In the second clip from AFI Fest, Common (who also has a role in the film), talks about bringing John Legend on board to work on the music. “I was like laying in my bed and said, ‘I need to call John Legend about this.’” (Would that we could all do that when the inspiration hit.) Legend was apparently on tour but free just one day to contribute and wrote a song inspired by the notion of glory.
More recently, DuVernay and Oyelowo sat down earlier this month for a post-screening chat about the film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Cameron Bailey moderated the discussion about the film that “absolutely moves [him].” He started things off by asking the director—who claims a little bit later on to have only been making films for the past five years, and who just quit her full time job three years ago in order to focus solely on cinema—about her experiences making the picture. One of the first tings DuVernay recalls is the reality of making the leap from a $200K film (her last, “Middle of Nowhere”) to a $20 million film (“Selma”). She claims independent filmmakers jumping to a studio picture with a budget 100 times what they’ve previously worked with don’t realize that making a period film essentially cuts everything in half. DuVernay explains that such pictures require extremely detailed costumes, sets, props—everything—which consumes a massive chunk of the budget. Her discussion of this realization is surprisingly honest and illuminating, especially for anyone curious to know the differences between making an indie and a blockbuster. Watch the full 44-minute talkback, of course, but we have to say there’s a great moment with Oyelowo right up front, when he first opens his mouth at around the five-minute mark. Oyelowo of course plays King, a southern orator. But surprise surprise if you don’t know him, which someone sitting in the front row clearly didn’t—Oyelowo’s British. The reaction is priceless.
Lastly, DuVernay, Oyelowo, Common, and Carmen Ejogo stopped by the Academy Theater for the discussion of the movie as well.
Martin Sheen, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr., Giovanni Ribisi, and Winfrey herself help round out the cast. If your local cineplex doesn’t score a Christmas Day opening, don’t worry—“Selma” opens wide January 9th. Watch it all below, with two TV spots to start it off.