I HAVE A DREAM
The director of the powerful Martin Luther King Jr. film Selma sat down to discuss the film, as well as race in America and Hollywood.
The road to Selma, the first studio biopic of legendary Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., was a bumpy one.
Once British screenwriter Paul Webb finished his first draft of the screenplay in 2007, it passed through the hands of filmmakers Michael Mann and Stephen Frears, before landing on the lap of Lee Daniels. So, Daniels cast his Paperboy co-star David Oyelowo as Dr. King, and surrounded him with A-listers like Robert De Niro and Hugh Jackman. Then, in 2010, Daniels opted to helm The Butler instead and most of the supporting cast dropped out, leaving Selma on life support. In stepped Oyelowo, who handwrote a letter to the film’s financiers at Pathé begging them to consider an up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Ava DuVernay for the director’s chair. DuVernay had worked with Oyelowo on Middle of Nowhere, a gripping drama about a woman struggling to come to terms with her husband’s pending eight-year prison stint. But that film was made for just $200,000, half of which came from the personal savings of DuVernay (a former publicist and Hollywood crisis consultant).
Oyelowo nonetheless sold the film’s French backers on the idea, and Tom Wilkinson (Lyndon B. Johnson), Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King), Tim Roth (George Wallace), and a host of others joined the cast. Earlier this year, Oprah Winfrey joined Brad Pitt as a producer on the film, and also stepped into the role of activist Annie Lee Cooper.
“He’s my muse,” DuVernay says of Oyelowo. “Usually muses are hot, young things for some old-man director, so he’s my hot blond. He inspires my imagination because I know he can do anything I can think of.”