January 3, 2015 / 12:06 PM / in 3 years

Fear and joy as Alabama town readies for screenings of film 'Selma'

Cast member David Oyelowo, who plays the role of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, arrives during a gala event for the film "Selma" in Goleta, California in a December 6, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Phil Klein/files

(Reuters) - Residents of Selma, Alabama, will next week be offered free screenings of “Selma,” a Golden Globe-nominated film some locals welcome as the telling of an important civil rights-era story while others fear it could harm the downtrodden city’s image.

The film, which portrays events surrounding civil rights protests in the town in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr., will be shown courtesy of Paramount Pictures starting Jan. 9 and run through the month at the Selma Walton Theater.

Starring David Oyelowo as King, the film has generated Oscar buzz but also accusations of historical inaccuracy around the role of then-President Lyndon Johnson, a civil rights proponent who is depicted opposing the marches.

It has also stirred passions in Selma. The town has about 20,000 people, roughly 80 percent of whom are black and more than 40 percent of whom live in poverty, according to census figures.

U.S. Representative Terri Sewell, a black Democrat and Selma native, said the film is both an opportunity for the town to attract attention and business and to memorialize its key role in the civil rights struggle.

“It’s important for us to tell this story,” she said.

Alston Keith Jr., a lifelong Selma resident who was preparing for law school at the time of the protests, says he worries the film will overstate the violence, which he says was more sporadic than how it was reported at the time.

“I don’t know if the movie is going to help Selma’s image the way it will be portrayed,” said Keith, who is white.

The Selma Walton Theater is itself an emblem of the city’s more recent struggles and its quest to reinvent itself. The city-owned venue, which was refurbished and opened in 2012 after years of disuse, was shuttered in late 2013 when no investors could be found to take it over. It will be reopened for the screenings.

David Jackson, a consultant who moved to Selma from California with his wife four years ago, said he was moved by the film when he saw an early screening. It captures the essence of the town he has grown to love, said Jackson, who was behind the push to reopen the theater in 2012.

“I don’t see it as opening up new wounds. I see it as a part of history,” he said. “It was painful, but we all got better as a result of it.”

Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Sherrel Wheeler Stewart in Birmingham, Alabama; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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