As a former publicist, Ava DuVernay was working on a movie set when she had her “Aha” moment about becoming a director. She found her voice directing several independent films and now thanks to “Selma,” DuVernay made history as the first African-American woman ever nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the motion picture directing category.
SD: There are so many great chapters in Dr. Martin Luther King’s life. Why did you choose to focus on “Selma?”
AD: His life is very episodic. You could make entire film about any event in his life – Montgomery and the bus boycotts, the March on Washington, and the “I Have A Dream” speech. I think what really attracted me to this particular time [in “Selma”] is because I feel it really captures who he was. He was having challenges in his personal life, his professional life—the Black Power Movement was moving in and people were veering away from him. He finally had established himself as a leader. He had already received the Nobel Prize. He had already stood up for the four little girls that were killed in Birmingham. Selma was a moment in his life when he was finally established. I was fascinated by, what would a great man do next? Usually in films, we see the rise but we don’t see what it takes to maintain that. I really love the three months that we explore in the film.
SD: You portray him as a flawed man like we all are. Are you worried about a backlash?
AD: I don’t picture him as a flawed man, but as a man. I’m a filmmaker who strides to illustrate real life and whatever that entails. I just spent the weekend with Beatrice King, Andrew Young, John Lewis and Diane Nash, all the real people who are portrayed in the film. There were a lot of tears, hugs and gratitude that someone has told the story. I think that we are being selfish to the man who really existed if we deify him and not show him for who he really was. We have made him a street and a holiday, but have never allowed him to breathe.
SD: Why do you think it took so long to make a major feature film about him?
AD: It’s ridiculous! I really don’t know. It’s been 50 years since these events happens and there has never been a major motion picture with King at the center. He has always been an ancillary character. There is some kind of kismet with the film coming out now. We are in this culture moment that is very robust with a lot of conversation and change and action happening. Having a piece of art meeting this moment, I find very beautiful.
SD: Was this a hard film to get launched because it was centered on King?
AD: There was a pervious script that was more “White-Savior” centered. This is why it is so important to allow for different perspectives from behind the camera and in the scripting process. I take no offense to white men writing “white-savior” movies, because we all place ourselves in the center of our own story – it just human nature. When I received the script, I put myself in the center of the story. This is why you have to have storytellers of different kinds.
SD: You recently hosted a screening at Oprah’s house. How was she as a hostess and what did she feed you?
AD: OMG! Everything at Oprah’s house is better. The water is better, the grass is greener, everything is just better. She was amazing! She served the most amazing truffle grits. I mean who has ever thought of those.
Selma opens nationwide on January 9th. For more information on Selma visit www.selmamovie.com.