U.S. racial justice quest comes full circle in film 'Selma'

Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:44pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When director Ava DuVernay was shooting the Martin Luther King Jr. movie "Selma," she was nervous how the story of a 50-year-old battle for black voting rights would feel relevant for 21st century Americans.

She needn't have worried.

"Selma," the first U.S. feature film ever to focus on the iconic civil rights leader, arrives in theaters next week, after nationwide protests over the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers that have put race relations back on top of the political agenda.

DuVernay, an African-American woman - a rarity among Hollywood movie directors - calls the timing jaw-dropping.

"We were here talking about the marches of Selma and I could hear people marching outside," she said of media interviews for the movie in New York last weekend as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the city's streets and around the nation.

"For this piece of art to meet this cultural moment is something that was never designed ... and, to me, it's a jaw dropper," DuVernay told Reuters.

The connection to current events could help "Selma" become a serious awards contender. Before the film opens in four cities on Dec. 25, it has already garnered four Golden Globe nominations, including best director for DuVernay.

Eight years in development and with crucial backing from producer Oprah Winfrey, "Selma" focuses on the early months of 1965, when Rev. King and thousands of black and white Americans attempted three times to march peacefully from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital Montgomery in pursuit of the right to vote.   Continued...

Director and executive producer Ava DuVernay poses at a screening of the film "Selma" during AFI Fest 2014 in Hollywood, California November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok