Democracy Now! January 27, 2015
Today we spend the hour with Ava DuVernay, the director of the acclaimed new civil rights film "Selma," which tells the story of the campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to draw the nation’s attention to the struggle for equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March of 1965. While the film has been nominated for an Oscar for best picture, to the shock of many, DuVernay was not nominated. She would have made history as the first African-American woman nominated for best director. At the Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay joins us to discuss the making of the film and the Academy Award nominations. "The question is why was 'Selma' the only film that was in the running with people of color for the award?" she asks.
In our extended interview with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, we broadcast excerpts from her Oscar-nominated film, which highlights both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in Selma, as well as the grassroots civil rights movement’s role in pushing President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act, and Coretta Scott King’s secret meeting with Malcolm X while King was in jail. DuVernay also explains her approach to showing police and vigilante aggression used against activists in the movement for civil and voting rights. "There is so much violence in this era that we’re talking about, but I wanted the violence to be something that was reverential to the lives lost … these black lives that mattered," DuVernay says.
As we continue our interview with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, she responds to the controversy around her film’s portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film depicts him as a reluctant, and even obstructionist, politician who had the FBI monitor and harass King. "I’m not here to rehabilitate anyone’s image or be a custodian of anyone’s legacy," DuVernay says. She expresses dismay that the debate has shifted attention from the film’s focus on protest and resistance that continues today over police brutality. DuVernay also describes how she screened "Selma" at the White House for President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama 50 years after D.W. Griffith was there to screen the notoriously racist film "Birth of a Nation" for President Woodrow Wilson.
As Ava DuVernay considers her next steps after "Selma," her first big budget feature film, she offers advice to aspiring filmmakers. "We have to work without permission. Especially as women in this industry. Who are we asking for permission to do what we want to do? That should be eradicated. You need to set a path and start walking." DuVernay discusses her next feature film, which will be a love story and murder mystery set in New Orleans amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and recalls the impact acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert had on her life, who raved about one of her first projects, "I Will Follow." "He lifted that film from nowhere, and lifted me up with it," she says.
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