Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King Jr. Film ‘Selma’ Earns Standing Ovation at AFI Fest

Oprah Winfrey praises star David Oyelowo’s growth into the role, while he says a “higher power” told him he would portray MLK

Paramount Vantage

Paramount unveiled Ava DuVernay‘s MLK movie “Selma” on Tuesday night at AFI Fest, where the powerful civil rights drama drew a standing ovation.

David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 after initially encountering violent opposition from Sheriff Jim Clark, as empowered by Governor George Wallace.

Producer Oprah Winfrey said Oyelowo was the reason she boarded the project, though she initially had her doubts he could pull off the challenging role.

After Oyelowo put himself on tape, Winfrey said his performance wasn’t quite there but she could see it getting there and wanted to help him.

Oyelowo, for his part, never wavered in his belief that he was the right man for the role.

“On July 24, 2007, I was told from above I would play this role. The director at the time didn’t agree with my higher power,” said Oyelowo, who persevered and delivered a powerhouse performance.

“The figure of Dr. King looms large,” said producer Jeremy Kleiner, who felt that Oyelowo did the iconic figure proud.

Winfrey recalled when a white extra who was nervous about using a racial epithet asked DuVernay, ‘Do you really want me to say that out loud?’

DuVernay said it was a necessity for the white extras to express vitriol and rage, but noted that the non-professional extras used in Alabama did not hold racist beliefs.