AFI Movie Club: SELMA – American Film Institute
Selma Film Still - Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, Wendell Pierce, Trai Byers, and Stephan James


AFI Movie Club: SELMA

SELMA was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2014 – recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. Ava DuVernay’s visionary film invited audiences “to rise above the breathless shame of our nation’s past and come together as one as we look to the future.” ​


Movie Trivia about SELMA

DID YOU KNOW that SELMA is the first feature film on Martin Luther King, Jr.? While his life has been captured on the small screen on several occasions, including 1978’s KING and 2001’s BOYCOTT, and in a number of documentaries, it wasn’t until 2014 that his story was brought to the big screen by Ava DuVernay. 

DID YOU KNOW SELMA is based on a real-life movement that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965? The title of the film refers to the 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery that concluded on March 25,1965 with a total of 25,000 demonstrators. 

DID YOU KNOW that many directors were involved with the project over the years including Michael Mann (with whom director Ava DuVernay worked as a publicist), Stephen Frears, Paul Haggis, Spike Lee and Lee Daniels? Ava DuVernay ultimately directed the picture, and it went on to earn an Academy Award® nomination for Best Picture. 

DID YOU KNOW all the extras in the bridge scene were actually from Selma, Alabama? This was important to the director, Ava DuVernay, in terms of the authenticity of the story. 

DID YOU KNOW the actor portraying Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film – David Oyelowo – is British? The historical elements of the film were not a part of his own direct cultural upbringing, but he has stated that his distance helped him approach King as a man rather than just an icon. 

DID YOU KNOW that star David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay previously teamed up for MIDDLE OF NOWHERE? The film earned DuVernay the Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival, making her the first Black woman to receive the honor. 

DID YOU KNOW Carmen Ejogo not only played Coretta Scott King in SELMA, but also in the 2001 TV movie BOYCOTT? 

DID YOU KNOW although she is not credited onscreen as a writer, Ava DuVernay reworked the script for SELMA, emphasizing King and the female characters over President Lyndon B. Johnson’s point of view? 

DID YOU KNOW that when Ava DuVernay signed on to direct Selma, she was informed that she would not be able to use the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original speeches? His estate had already given permission to Steven Spielberg for an upcoming, untitled film. Undeterred, DuVernay wrote new speeches that embodied King’s spirit herself, although she is not credited onscreen as a writer. 

DID YOU KNOW SELMA was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Picture and won the Oscar® for Best Original Song for “Glory” performed by John Legend and Common? 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What is the significance of the film being titled SELMA, as opposed to naming it after Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why do you think the filmmakers made this creative choice? 

-How did SELMA show an individual securing major social and political reform? 

-Why do you think disenfranchised citizens would risk their lives to ensure the right to vote? 

Oprah Winfrey was a producer on the film and also portrayed civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper. Can you name some of the other real-life civil rights leaders who were included in the film? 

-Initially, there was very little focus on Coretta Scott King and the women activists in the script. Why is it important that DuVernay reframed the story to include them? Why have women often not been considered as part of the historical narrative? 

-How was Lyndon B. Johnson portrayed in the film? Do you agree with his depiction? 

-Several attempts have been made to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge because it was named after a Confederate brigadier general, but none have been successful so far. The latest petition is to name it after U.S. Representative John Lewis. Do you think the bridge should be renamed? Who would you name it after? 

-Because the filmmakers of SELMA did not have the rights to use King’s speeches, Ava DuVernay had to interpret his words and adapt their spirit for the film. Do you think the film captured the importance he played in a specific moment in American history? 

-How would you rate SELMA? 


In this exclusive AFI Archive video, watch Ava DuVernay talk about working on SELMA:  

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