News broke out last night that Paramount Pictures had acquired the rights to the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma. The big producer on the project is none other than Oprah Winfrey, which is fitting given her co-starring and producing work on this year’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler. It also seems a little miraculous given the amount of horrible luck that other potential MLK biopics have suffered from over the years, including Paul Greengrass’ Memphis, which got close to getting made but has not been able to get off the ground at this point. There was also a script rewrite last month for an MLK project by Oliver Stone that Dreamworks and Warner Brothers rejected. It stands as a testament as to the continuing influence that Ms. Winfrey has in the cultural landscape today.
On the surface, it seems like the kind of deal designed to give the studio a potential Oscar contender in 2015 or 2016, depending on when production would start. Paramount has not had a Best Picture Oscar winner since 2007’s Coen Brothers-directed No Country for Old Men. But there is a deeper story that is worthy of examination and acclaim by those who may not know or care about the inner machinations of Hollywood. Acquiring the MLK bipoic Selma could reap big benefits.
The journey of Selma starts back in 2010 when Lee Daniels was attached to direct the film which showcases King’s work in the Selma Bus Boycott in 1965. David Oyelowo was also attached to star as the civil rights icon in the movie. There were some possible producing partners, but it never quite gelled together and Daniels dropped out in favor of Daniels’ The Butler, which also starred the British-born Oyelowo.
Flash forward to July of last year. Ava Duvernay stepped up to take over for Daniels, following the original draft from Paul Webb. Oyelowo was also still attached to the film, as he is today, which is a definite plus given the fine work he is put together in films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To those who may not be familiar with Duvernay, she started out initially as an actress, landing small roles in big blockbusters like Spider Man 2 and the highly underrated Michael Mann-directed Collateral.
Her film directorial resume at this point is short, but also eclectic and varied, filled with documentary fare like Venus Vs. along with short films Compton in C Minor and The Door and even an episode of the highly rated ABC nighttime soap Scandal. She landed her first feature directorial job in 2012 with indie Middle of Nowhere. It was her work on that film that drew Winfrey toward putting her considerable prestige on to the project. Although Paramount did not say that Duvernay was attached as the director for Selma, it seems only logical that she would be slated as such, given the fact the project’s being fueled by a script re-write from her.
A big question that still lies after last night’s acquisition by Paramount is whether the rest of the original cast will stay on to the new MLK biobic project whenever it does start shooting. The inner film fan would be quietly rooting that they do, given the type of deep cast that was rumored to be involved with Selma last year. Names like Hugh Jackman, Robert De Niro, Ray Winstone and Liam Neeson with multiple Oscar nominations and wins to their names. It is one of the rare movies one hopes becomes a reality.
Editorial By Brian Ault