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The Importance of SELMA: Interview with director Ava DuVernay in Philadelphia

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I feel really blessed to have been give the opportunity to screen Selma with just a handful of colleagues who I consider friends, and then get a chance to sit down with them to interview the awesomely talented writer and director - Ava DuVernay.

The movie SELMA focuses on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and what it took to get the law passed in Congress. A defining moment in the fight for fair voting practices for all races was the march from Selma to Montgomery, which was attempted twice before actually taking place. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) was at the helm of the movement supported by other members of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), together with many individuals who were determined to exercise their right to vote, like Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), grassroots organizations like SNCC, and civil rights protesters like Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), who was shot and killed for his commitment to the cause.

I'm trying to look at the LBJ controversy now in the news regarding Selma as a good way to heighten the awareness of the movie; after all, it worked for The Interview. As they say, no such thing as bad press.  For anyone unaware of what I'm referring to, there are Selma detractors who are asking that the movie not be considered for an Oscar, as they feel President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) is unfairly characterized in the film.
It started in a Politico magazine story last week. Historian Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, charged that the movie "flies in the face of history" in depicting the "pivotal" relationship between MLK and LBJ as contentious."Why does the film's mischaracterization matter? Because at a time when racial tension is once again high, from Ferguson to Brooklyn, it does no good to bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the Civil Rights Movement by suggesting that the president himself stood in the way of progress," Updegrove wrote. READ MORE Maria Puente, USA TODAY

To which Ava responded with a number of tweets, but this one linked to a New York Times article The Color of Law:Voting rights and the Southern way of life. By Louis Menand, supports Selma's viewpoint is based on factual history - (Note: embedded tweet will not be visible to those receiving Tinsel & Tine via RSS Feed).

In my opinion, LBJ is depicted fairly in the film. He's not against voting legislation for blacks, but he's got to consider other ramifications. The Civil Rights Act and abolishment of Jim Crow laws were only passed the previous year and tensions were still very high.  He asked MLK to wait, and King said we can not wait. I don't see that as vilifying Johnson.  Plus, LBJ gets his due at the end of the movie. He tells Gov. George Wallace that he won't be lumped in with his bigoted ways of thinking, when it's looked back on in history. And he's shown on television passing the voting rights act into law.

Speaking of Racial Tensions...

brings me to the questions I got to ask Ava DuVernay during the interview at The Ritz Carlton Hotel Philadelphia:

Ava DuVernay, SELMA Director and Le Anne Lindsay, Tinsel & Tine Editor

T&T: On the days when you filmed the massacre on the bridge, what was the set like between white and black cast members? Was there a lot of tension? And if so, did you try to dispel it or use it to heighten the scene?

AVA: That's interesting. It's the last day of my 2 week press tour and no one else has asked me that question. So that's pretty cool.

T&T: Great! 

AVA: No. Because the white people on the bridge did not want to say what they had to say. They were really upset that they were being asked to say it. They were lovely in doing it. One woman asked me -
"Do you want me to say the N-word?"
"Yes Ma'am"
"The n-word?"
"Yes, The n-word, the real word. You can't say "N-word go home!", you've gotta say THE REAL WORD the n-word represents."

AVA cont: She didn't feel that way, so she didn't want to say it, that was all of them, none of them wanted to say it, but they did it to tell the story. And there were a lot of those conversations, but they understood what they were there for, to represent a certain side of the story to amplify what was right. So there wasn't any feelings of animosity among the extras. The black extras I think felt a lot of sympathy for the white ones, because they'd all eaten together, they'd all gotten dressed together in the background actor's tents, they were locals who'd gotten to know each other and then they had to be separated and yell angry it was interesting but it was never tense.

T&T: If the family of Martin Luther King Jr. (Martin Luther King III, Bernice King etc... have been so supportive of Selma, why were you not granted access to use Dr. King's actual speeches? And more importantly, how did you pull off writing those speeches so magnificently?

AVA:  The family and the estate are separate entities. All of Dr. King's speeches are licensed to Steven Spielberg.  Selma was made independently with no approval or input from the estate. I was a double major in English and African American studies at UCLA, which really came in handy to write the speeches. I was blessed to have the exact tools that I needed to breakdown the cadence, the rhythm and the tonality of the way that he spoke - reconstructed with new words, but always keeping the intention - Dr. King was a big ideas guy, so I knew if I could get across the ideas then the words mattered less than what he was trying to tell us. And then David Oyelowo is 90% of why the speeches worked.

 Former Tinsel & Tine Blog Contributor and Journalist Chris "Flood the Drummer" Norris was also at the roundtable discussion with Ava DuVernay check out his coverage below:

READ MORE Philly In Focus

Ava also revealed that before starting Selma she was not a fan of historical dramas, and knows audiences have different prejudices about this kind of material. However, she points out, there's never been a film released in theaters made about Martin Luther King Jr. at the center, humanizing him, showing you that he was more than "I Have a Dream" and what we know from the history books. She's asking people to give the movie a chance. She hopes it's something that will stick to your ribs, something that will come to mind days later while you're washing dishes or sitting with a friend.

Edmund Pettus Bridge Selma Alabama March to Montgomery

I came away from the film feeling a lot of things, one being shame for not having voted in this last election.  I moved this summer and hadn't taken the time to change my address with voters registration. I could have gone to my old neighborhood polling place, but that would've entailed getting up an hour earlier, so I just didn't vote.  It didn't seem like a big deal at the time; but after witnessing Selma, knowing that a generation or two before me laid down their lives so I could have this right, well, what else could I feel but shame for not wanting to get up early.

 but I had one last burning question!
Oprah, David & Ava NYC Premiere of Selma

T&T:  What do you plan to wear to the Golden Globes?

AVA: (Laughs)  Oh, that's good. I like that.  I have not a clue and it terrifies me. I've gotta figure it out though.

So Philly Fashion Designers, here's your chance - I've now met Ava 3 times, support AFFRM and have interviewed her twice, I may have a little in, send me your Golden Globe dress design sketches!

Post Update 1/12/15

And here's the dress Ava chose!  Elegant, sophisticated, understated w/ nice flow, haven't been able to find an image from the back. Would like to see the cape effect more closely.

T &T's LAMB Score: 5 outta 5  - SELMA opens nationwide January 9, 2015

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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