‘Selma’ Director on Approaching the Depiction of Martin Luther King in a Small, Intimate Way

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It may be shocking to realize that Ava DuVernay’s Selma is the first studio-backed feature film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film depicts three crucial months of the Voting Rights Act coming to fruition.

“I approached it through an intimate way and that helped me get to the King of it all,” DuVernay tells Indiewire. “If I walked in thinking ‘I'm making a movie about Dr. King’ I would've freaked out, so I came in small and it was able to blossom into something else.”

Actor David Oyelowo, who plays King in the film, gives insight into his process too, adding, “I had always known that if you're going to play Dr. King the one thing you couldn't do is approach him as an icon or a historical figure, but as a human being.”

DuVernay also credits the success of films like The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, and Fruitvale Station with getting this film finally made. “I think we're in a place where hopefully one feeds the other in this kind of cinema with people of color at the center, and we don't have to keep re-inventing the wheel each time. I think that sets up a space for future filmmakers, because it's always so hard to get it done,” she says. “For Selma, it's definitely the time and the team of these producers creating a perfect storm, as well as this guy who’s the same age as King, four children like King, been prepping King in his head and heart for seven years. You gotta take that moment.”

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