On Saturday, nearly 30,000 people assembled in New York City”s Washington Square Park for “Millions March NYC,” a demonstration protesting the grand jury's decision not to indict an NYPD officer in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, along with broader racial issues that have bubbled to the surface in America throughout 2014. On Sunday, Paramount Pictures held its east coast premiere for director Ava DuVernay”s “Selma” at the city”s lavish Ziegfeld Theater. With a fleet of photographers ready to snap their photos, DuVernay and her cast took advantage of the stage, donning shirts emblazoned with “I Can”t Breathe,” Garner”s final words and the unofficial protest slogan, for a striking group photo. The example set the night before could not go unacknowledged.
The picture features DuVernay with stars David Oyelowo, E. Roger Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, Omar Dorsey, John Lavelle, Stephan James, Kent Faulcon, Lorraine Toussaint, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson and Colman Domingo standing on the steps of the New York Public Library.
Aligning a Hollywood motion picture with a sensitive sociopolitical movement can be tricky, legitimate support and publicity tactics blurring with every viral decision, but there”s no denying the connections between “Selma,” the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and what”s erupting on streets across the nation.
The “I Can”t Breathe” snapshot also isn”t the first co-opting of “Selma” momentum for modern equality conversations. After a grand jury failed to indict policeman Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, DuVernay teamed with the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement for an impromptu screening series. It's hard to imagine the writer-director's passion for the hot topic will die down after “Selma” makes its play for Oscars this coming February.
“Selma” arrives in limited release on Dec. 25, 2014 and opens wide on Jan. 9, 2015.