SELMA, the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic struggle to secure voting rights for African-Americans, will open in cinemas on 6 February next year. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of this pivotal moment in the US Civil Rights Movement.
Focusing on one specific period in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the film tracks a dangerous and terrifying three month campaign led by Dr King which culminated in the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of non-violent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd: ‘‘There never was a moment in American history more honourable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes’’ (King, ‘‘Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March,’’).
The three 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965; it gained the nickname “Bloody Sunday” after its 600 marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas.
The second march took place March 9; police and marchers stood off against one another, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, King led the marchers back to the church. The third march started March 21. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles (16 km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the “Jefferson Davis Highway”. The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and at the Alabama State Capital on March 25.
The campaign galvanized American public opinion and persuaded President Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act, protecting African-Americans’ right to vote. The civil rights movement has of course been chronicled extensively in books, documentaries and television films, but few feature films have depicted this rich history. The route is memorialised as the Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, and is a US National Historic Trail.
SELMA stars British actor David Oyelowo (Middle of Nowhere, The Butler, A Most Violent Year) as Martin Luther King Jr. and is directed by Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere). The supporting cast of SELMA includes Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Michael Clayton) as President Lyndon B. Johnson; Carmen Ejogo (Alex Cross, Ride And Glory) as Coretta King; Tim Roth (Arbitrage, The Incredible Hulk) as Governor George Wallace; and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper.
The film is produced by Oprah Winfrey (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Beloved) through Harpo Films; Christian Colson through Cloud Eight Films (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire); and Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner for Plan B (12 Years A Slave). Ava DuVernay, Paul Garnes, Cameron McCracken (for Pathé) and Nan Morales are executive producers. The behind-the-scenes creative team includes cinematographer Bradford Young (Mother of George, Middle of Nowhere), production designer Mark Friedberg (Noah, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Mildred Pierce), and costume designer Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X). The film was shot in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Montgomery and Selma, Alabama.
Pathé has announced Selma will be available in cinemas across the UK on 6 February 2015. Shirley McGreal