I wish nothing but the best for Ava DuVernay. If female filmmakers are already a regrettable minority in Hollywood, African-American female filmmakers are still practically novelties, so anyone working to bust that particular glass ceiling has my attention. Still, DuVernay deserves notice on her individual gifts alone: the writer-director’s coolly assured breakthrough feature “Middle of Nowhere,” which won her the Best Director prize at Sundance, was one of last year’s most richly characterized, formally striking US microbudget indies. Furthermore, DuVernay’s not only looking out for number one: the former film publicist is doing much to support other independent talents via her own distribution outlet, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement.
So I’m pleased to hear that the gears have already started grinding for DuVernay’s follow-up feature, which appears to be a considerably bigger project: she’ll directing “Selma,” a drama about the role played by Martin Luther King in the Selma Voting Rights Movement of 1965, a dramatic turning point in the civil rights movement that culminated in the historic Selma to Montgomery marches.
British producer Christian Colson, who won the 2008 Best Picture Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” is steering the project, with the support of Pathe UK and Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company. British actor David Oyelowo, who played the principal male role in “Middle of Nowhere,” will play King. He’s been attached to the project for some time, however: “Selma” was originally set to be directed by his “Paperboy” director, Oscar nominee Lee Daniels. Funding delays forced Daniels had to bow out, and he instead signed on to another Civil Rights-era project, the soon-to-be-released film formerly known as “The Butler” (in which Oyelowo also stars).
Daniels managed to gather a name-heavy cast while he was assigned to “Selma”: Hugh Jackman, Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone and Cedric the Entertainer were all in the mix alongside Oyelowo. With individual schedules having presumably moved on, and with DuVernay having a distinctly different sensibility from Daniels, it’ll be interesting to see whether she summons similar star power or assembles a more indie-oriented ensemble.
Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports that “Selma” will be looking to get on track before a couple of King-related projects jostling for prestige position — with Paul Greengrass and Steven Spielberg among the directors developing them. DuVernay, meanwhile, has been engaged in research and script-polishing for “Selma” since April, and is ready to go — here’s hoping she brings the intimacy of her previous work to bigger biopic fare.