Watch the whole thing HERE!
Watch the whole thing HERE!
“I like to think of myself as a good actor,” says David Oyelowo, “but Martin Luther King, I ain’t.”
The 38-year-old British actor plays the venerated civil rights leader in Selma, a dramatic retelling of Dr. King’s 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march.
It’s a stirring performance that has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor in a Drama. He admits he wasn’t a natural fit for the part— “I would never have cast me in this role, a British actor, having not done much work in Hollywood.”—but the film’s producer Oprah Winfrey (who also has a heart-wrenching cameo) said, “I can see King in you.”
The actor, best known for his work on the British TV show MI-5, told an audience at the AFI he always felt like he’d play King at some point. “Very soon after my wife and I moved to this country, I was told from above that I would play this role on the 24th of July, 2007. I couldn’t believe it, so I wrote it down.”
With the help of his higher power, Oprah, director Ava DuVernay, research and a weight gain of thirty pounds—eat lasagna late at night he says—Oyelowo found the character and won the blessing of Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter. “It was huge for me to bridge that gap between the production and the family,” OIyelowo told The Daily Beast.
Martin Luther King III, son of Martin and Coretta Scott King, called Selma, “a very emotional experience,” and hopes that the film’s success will spur Hollywood interest in his father’s life, work and legacy.
Steven Spielberg is reportedly working on a biopic and a new German film called Schwarzkopf BRD features King in a study of racial politics in Berlin.
In more traditional films Dr. King has been portrayed by everyone from Paul Winfield, who earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in King, a three hour TV miniseries, to Jeffrey Wright in Boycott, to son Dexter King in The Rosa Parks Story.
King siblings, Dexter and Yolanda, collaborated with filmmakers Rob Smiley and Vincenzo Trippetti on the most unique retelling of their father’s life. Combining animation and historical footage, Our Friend, Martin is a time travel story about a student sent back in time to meet King at significant moments in his life. The hour long film is difficult to find but features wonderful vocal performances from Angela Bassett, LeVar Burton, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Dexter King as his father at age 34.
“Selma” is a snapshot of a time. Instead of trying to cover the width and breadth of Martin Luther King’s life and accomplishments, director Ava DuVernay hones the story down to one seminal event, Dr. King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. It’s an effective and uncluttered approach that brings one of the biggest events of the civil rights movement into sharp focus.
The heart and soul of the film is Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), a Selma nurse who tries to register for the vote. The legal right is hers, but this is 1965 and a racist county clerk asks her a series of questions to make sure she is qualified to vote. After she recites the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution he asks her how many county judges are in the area. “Sixty-seven,” she replies confidently. “Name them,” he says, stamping Denied on her application.
Cooper is not a main character. She pops up now and again, but the power of this scene informs the rest of the movie. She is an average woman who stood up for herself and neighbors, and with the help of Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and a dedicated group of civil rights workers broke down barriers in a state where the governor (Tim Roth) is firmly in favor of segregation.
“Selma” is a powerful movie not just because of what it does show but because of what it doesn’t show. There is no “I Have a Dream” speech or Bus Boycotts to be seen. Instead the script focuses on the salient details of the Selma marches which leaves time to humanize and get under the skin of the Dr. King and several of the other characters.
The movie is helmed by a gobsmackingly good performance from Oyelowo as King. He’s righteous, fiery and but plays King like a man, not an emblem. It is career making work but he’s not alone in handing in powerful work.
Winfrey’s big scene is a showstopper, a quietly played moment of frustration, hurt and anger, all of which flash across her face in a nicely underplayed role. For me, however, the movie’s most effective scene happens between King and an elderly man, Cager Lee (Henry G. Sanders), who has lost his son in a burst of race related violence. The men meet in the morgue and say what you might expect people in that situation to say to one another, but the look of Sanders’s face, in the presence of the civil rights leader, is heartbreaking and hopeful simultaneously.
“Selma” is a historical document, but so alive and timely, it is essential viewing almost fifty years after King’s assassination.