Ava DuVernay made a small splash with her critically admired 2012 feature Middle of Nowhere, a bold drama about a woman rebuilding while her husband was sentenced to prison. While the film made only a blip at the box office, it was well received and earned the writer/director an Independent Spirit Award last year, a Director’s Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (the first time woman had won such an honor), and a chance at a broader canvas on her next feature. That will be Selma, a new drama on Martin Luther King, Jr.
David Oyelowo, the rising actor who received strong notices and briefs awards chatter for his role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler has long been attached to play King and The Hollywood Reporter writes that Carmen Ejogo (Sparkle) and Oscar-nominated actor Tom Wilkinson (currently on screen, albeit briefly, in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) are slated to join the cast as well. With financing for the film set by Pathe, Paramount set up as stateside distribution, and a powerful flock of producers in support of the film (including Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt), the film is starting to take shape as something to watch out for.
Selma documents the historic civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, where black marches protested for the right to vote. The Selma marches – there were three in total, the first being the most violent and cited popularly as “Bloody Sunday” – in many ways marked the emotional and political height of the Civil Rights Movement. They also made a profound impact on President Lyndon B. Johnson, who afterwards introduced the Voting Rights Act to prohibit discrimination while voting on federal, state and local elections. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, an activist in her own right, were participants in the march. It will be interesting to see where Selma as a film rates within the strong crop of films focusing on the racial struggles of black Americans that went on to critical and commercial success in 2013 (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Sundance Film Festival top prize winner Fruitvale Station, Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave.)
Selma was written by DuVernay and Paul Webb, and while a start date on the project still hasn’t been announced, chances are looking pretty good that this will be moving ahead soon. The film has been in development for some time now, with Oscar nominated director Lee Daniels circling the project for a while, but boasts a fine pedigree even without him as well. The folks at Plan B – Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner (all fresh Oscar-winners for Best Picture champ 12 Years a Slave) have been slated as producers, as has Christian Colson, Oscar-winning producer of Slumdog Millionaire. Ejogo, who will next appear in the horror film The Purge: Anarchy is set to play Coretta Scott King and Wilkinson has signed on as President Johnson.