‘Divine Timing’ of ‘Selma’

“Divine timing is what it is,” Winfrey says during a recent interview at her home in Santa Barbara, where she, DuVernay and Oyelowo were preparing to host a screening for veterans of the civil rights movement. For Winfrey, a firm believer in the importance of knowing one’s history, the achievement of “Selma” is that it dramatizes, and demystifies, those celebrated efforts.

“You get to see the magnitude and power of their discipline and strategy,” she says. “And also, in the end, that they called on love. When (King) called on those clergy from all over the country, they actually came and (were willing to give) up their lives.”

Set over a three-month period in 1965, the film (which opened Dec. 25 in limited release and will expand Jan. 9) offers a sharply focused, strikingly intimate account of how King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a series of 50-mile marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The anti-black violence that erupted on what became known as Bloody Sunday — inflamed by Selma’s racist leadership and magnified by the press — galvanized the nation and ultimately spurred the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which helped millions of Southern blacks to vote for the first time.

“Selma’s” chronicle of that tumultuous period proved especially transporting for many who attended the Washington, D.C., premiere on Dec. 11. During the post-screening Q&A, 74-year-old Congressman John Lewis, sharing the stage with DuVernay and Oyelowo, described the surreal experience of seeing himself onscreen as a civil rights activist in his 20s — a far cry from his days growing up a few miles from Selma, where “when we went to the theater, as young black children, we had to go upstairs to the balcony.” Willa Hall Smith, an Alabama native, recalled her firsthand experience participating in the marches: “This is not just a movie, folks! This is real. This actually happened.”

Yet it hasn’t taken long for the conversation to shift from the injustices of the past to those of the present. While DuVernay originally thought the film might help draw attention to the ongoing issue of minority voter suppression in the U.S., she says the ever-present reality of police violence against unarmed black men was never far from her mind. For all involved, the movie began to seem even more unsettlingly prescient after Brown was killed on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., a little more than a month after production wrapped in Atlanta. (Since then, another August police killing of a black man — Ford, shot at close range by members of the LAPD — has come to light, causing recent protests in Los Angeles.)

SOURCE: Variety.com