Ava DuVernay's "Selma" is going to come around at a particularly noteworthy time. Yes, it's been 50 years since the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and yes, it's been 49 years since the passing of the voter rights act. But as we look around today, it's perfectly clear: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Starting with voting, it's increasingly a Constitutional right that finds itself under fire. The strictures placed have been aimed — if not explicitly, then damn near close — at minorities all in the name of combating "voter fraud." But this was a dog that didn't hunt from the start, to the point that a Washington Post report revealing 31 credible instances of voter fraud out of a billion — that's 31 out of 1 with nine zeroes after it — comes across as hardly shocking, and borderline humorous. DuVernay herself has stated that if her film does nothing else, it must bring attention to this steady erosion.
And that's before we even get to the state of affairs with militarized police and general racism finding its way into the chamber of a gun because of the overall shoot first, ask questions later disposition of this country. I would say the latter is an outright side effect of lax gun control legislation leaving some of our less-balanced and/or power tripping weapon wielders feeling cavalier, but I'll just save my breath. The recent deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride have hammered that point home, while, within two miles of each other, the police executions of Mike Brown and Kajieme Powell in Ferguson have kept the issue of a puffed up police force playing army in our nation's streets at the fore.
A pair of new photos from "Selma" hit the web today courtesy of Paramount Pictures (after first popping up in Entertainment Weekly's Fall preview issue). Here's one of note:
And here is what DuVernay had to say specifically about that image:
"This shot in particular makes me think of both the striking parallels and the chasm of difference between what's happening in #Ferguson today and what happened in Selma almost 50 years ago. The violence against and the diminishment of the black community is the same. The focused, strategic, organized response by black citizens is the difference. This is not a criticism of anything that the citizens of Ferguson have done or not done to date. Just a reminder that there are PROVEN TACTICS in the struggle for our rights that have produced results. That there are pearls of wisdom in the warrior history of people of color in this country. And that our ancestors and elders want us to remember always and replicate as needed."
You get into trouble when you start setting up this or that film as a zeitgeist play in an awards season. We've already noted that, obviously in a completely different spectrum, Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children" may be flirting with that status. When you "go there," you set up a completely different batch of expectations for a film beyond what's on the frame, and even with art's responsibility to reflecting social truths, that can be dangerous for a movie. Nevertheless, "Selma" will arrive against a backdrop that won't easily be compartmentalized.
The film will also arrive very, very late. It will not, I've been told, be ready in time for AFI Fest in early November. Instead, it looks to land at the tail end of the season along with Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" and Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper." Whenever it arrives, I'll be curious to see how DuVernay's continued transition from publicist/distributor to filmmaker is going. Her previous films, "I Will Follow" and "Middle of Nowhere," were strong and showcased a definitive voice. She has one of the most talented DPs in the game, Bradford Young, capturing the look of the film. And she's assembled an amazing cast to tackle this long-gestating story for the big screen.
If you follow DuVernay on Instagram and/or Twitter, then you've had a front row seat to the film's production, as she has published a number of great images from the set, editing suite and more. I've included a number of them in the gallery below, along with the two images Paramount released today. You'll get a glimpse of Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon Baines Johnson and plenty of looks at David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. Also included below is DuVernay's installment of the Academy's "Academy Originals" series, which we originally published in June.
And be sure to follow DuVernay on Instagram and Twitter. This kind of consistent behind-the-scenes coverage of production is pretty refreshing in today's locked-down world of controlled film publicity.