Selma | 2014
Ava DuVernay’s account of Martin Luther King Jr’s campaign to secure voting rights for blacks in Alabama is built around a stunning performance by Brit David Oyelowo, which was oddly (or not so oddly by the often conservative Academy) snubbed by the Oscars. The performance is all the more impressive when you take into account that Oyelowo was obliged to reproduce the electrifying oratory without using King’s actual words, which were controversially licensed by the King estate to Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks company.
There seems to be something of an actor shortage in the US, with UK actors playing not only King but such iconic US figures as President LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) and Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth).
There is some scene setting in Alabama, but most of the film was made in Georgia. In fact, it was intended for all the filming to take place in Georgia but the Atlanta Film Office tenaciously pushed for at least some of the famously real locations to be used.
The film opens in 1964 with Dr Martin Luther King Jr accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, which was presented in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, although the scene was filmed in Georgia in the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art, 30 Atlanta Street SE, in Marietta, northwest of Atlanta.
Incidentally, the long-delayed sequel Dumb and Dumber To was recently filmed in Marietta Square.
King accepts the invitation to join a protest by the voters registration campaign in Selma, a town on the Alabama River, Hwy 80 just over 50 miles west of state capital Montgomery.
The town square of Covington, in Georgia about 40 miles east of Atlanta, dominated by Newton County Courthouse, stands in for ‘Selma’ as the party arrives.
King is greeted by James Bevel (Common) and other Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) activists, but gets a less-than-warm welcome from one hardline racist as he and his entourage check into the ‘Hotel Albert’. The hotel lobby is actually the Newton County Historic Courthouse itself, 1124 Clark Street on the north side of Covington Square.
A major location featured throughout the film is Selma’s Brown Chapel, which was the SCLC’s HQ and meeting place. The real Brown Chapel AME Church, 410 Martin Luther King Jr Street in Selma, is now a national Historic Landmark, and there was some consternation when the production chose to use Rutledge Baptist Church, 112 West Main Street, in Rutledge on Route 278 (Atlanta Highway), about 12 miles to the east of Covington.
The interior of LBJ’s ‘White House’ (along with several other office and hotel interiors) is Georgia Tech’s Academy of Medicine Building, 875 West Peachtree Street at 7th Street, Atlanta. The Academy’s pillared entrance was draped with Alabama and Confederate flags as the backdrop for Gov George Wallace’s speech.
With no press cameras in evidence, a night march in ‘Marion’ ends in violence, with demonstrators forced to find safety in the Town House Cafe, 1145 Washington Street SW in Covington, where Jimmie Lee Jackson is fatally shot by police. The café has also been featured in TV’s The Vampire Diaries, much of which is filmed around Covington.
King is spurred to lead a march along the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, the very doorstep of Governor Wallace.
The marchers assemble on the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing the Alabama River in Selma. This important landmark, where the march was violently broken up by state troopers in what became known as Bloody Sunday, is one of two real locations not reproduced in Georgia.
Edmund Pettus was a Civil War Confederate general who went on to become a US senator and, with horrible irony, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.
There’s much legal wrangling over the right to restage the march, which is finally granted by Alabama Federal Judge Frank Johnson (an unbilled cameo by Martin Sheen). The courtroom is Rockdale County Courthouse, 922 Court Street Northeast in Conyers, between Covington and Atlanta.
After a second aborted gathering, the third triumphant march finally reaches Montgomery and, for the second time, a real location is used. It’s on the steps in front of the Alabama State Capitol Building on Dexter Avenue that the film ends with Dr King looking forward to a future of genuine equality.