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Huge! Ava DuVernay Tapped By Brad Pitt's Plan B To Take Over Lee Daniels' 'Selma'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
July 11, 2013 3:25 PM
27 Comments
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Ava DuVernay is taking over directing duties of the Martin Luther King Jr feature project that Lee Daniels was once originally attached to helm, but faced a financing wall, and moved on to other projects.

Deadline reports that David Oyelowo, who was to star in Daniels' project, will stay onboard to play MLK, reuniting with DuVernay (he co-starred in her 2012 acclaimed sophomore effort, Middle Of Nowhere).

Titled Selma, DuVernay was brought onboard to direct the project by Pathe UKBrad Pitt’s Plan B and producer Christian Colson, who were impressed by her last effort, Middle Of Nowhere.

The feature drama centers on the 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement. 

DuVernay has reportedly already began scouting locations, and is working over the script with screenwriter Paul Webb, with production aimed to begin sooner than later, given the competition in the form of several other MLK projects, on the horizon.

Daniels' Selma was reportedly held up because family and close friends of the King estate didn't approve of the project, which would have highlighted some of King's vices. No word on whether there's been a shift, whether in the script, or the attitudes towards it.

4 years ago, here's how Daniels described what was then a much-buzzed about script, that was said to focus on the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr and Lyndon B. Johnson:


"It's a moment in time in Martin Luther King and LBJ's (life) around the signing of the Civil Rights. It's a snapshot of the march. It's really Lyndon Johnson's story. Martin Luther King is a part of it, but it's really the arc of a man that starts out as a racist who is forced to look at himself in the mirror and then ultimately side with King. It's really a journey of a white cat and how he sneers at tradition and against George Wallace, against everybody, says, 'Uh-uh.'"

Now we wait in anticipation to learn what/whose story DuVernay's polished script will tell. A lot, I'm sure, has changed in 4 years.

Regardless, this should be a nice budget-bump for Ms DuVernay to play with, after directing 2 low-budget indies in I Will Follow and the aforementioned Middle Of Nowhere

In addition to Oyelowo, the cast of Daniels' Selma also included Lenny Kravitz (as civil rights activist Andrew Young), Cedric The Entertainer(as Ralph Abernathy), Hugh Jackman (as racist Selma sheriff Jim Clark), and Liam Neeson (as President Lyndon Baines Johnson). 

No word yet on whether they're still attached.

I should also note, in closing, that it was last summer when Lee Daniels, apparently unable to get Selma off the ground, switched gears, still staying on the MLK course, but this time teaming with Hugh Jackman (who was also attached to Selma), to take on Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in a new film that would reportedly explore an "unconventional view of King's murder."

To be titled Orders To Kill, the film was to tell an alternative version of the MLK shooting, with Daniels directing of course, and Jackman starring.

The film will tell the story of William Pepper (Jackman), a controversial attorney and activist who for decades has argued that convicted killer James Earl Ray, who recanted his confession and died arguing his innocence, didn't shoot MLK. The picture will follow Pepper over the years as he wages a one-man campaign, interviewing witnesses and building support for his theory that other interests, including those from the U.S. government, were behind the 1968 Memphis killing. (In a nutshell, Pepper, who is still alive, argues that government interests wanted King dead because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.)

The film will be based on William Pepper's book of the same name, which has already been adapted to screenplay format, and is apparently ready to be shot, with Millennium Films producing and finance the film.

Last we checked, the project was being shopped around to distributors in Hollywood. No word on whether it's still alive.

Unlike Daniels' Selma (which was reportedly held up because family and close friends of the King estate didn't approve of the project, which would have highlighted some of King's vices), this project was said to have the support of Martin Luther King Jr.'s son Dexter King, who himself believes Pepper's story about who was really behind his father's murder.

There are at least 5 film projects in the works based on either the life of MLK, or some significant period during his 39 years on this planet. With producers of Selma seemingly anxious to get it in front of audiences, this (DuVernay's) just might be the first one at the finish line.

An obvious next question is whether DP extraordinaire Bradford Young will be brought along for the ride.

Also, keep in mind that Brad Pitt's Plan B production company is behind Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave as well

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27 Comments

  • Ed weeks | September 22, 2013 4:12 AMReply

    Tell Brad , That there's only 3 things in life you need to know. 1 every has steps 2 every has heat 3 every comes in 3!!!

  • SOB | July 12, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!! This is good news! Wow!!!!! HUGE indeed!

  • OH WELL | July 12, 2013 10:55 PMReply

    knew the snarks would come. it's no matter. i'm happy for her and can't wait to see this. congratulations, sister.

  • Miles Ellison | July 12, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    There seems to be a pattern here.

    The proposed movie about BB King mutated into the life story of some faceless white musician who owned a club BB King played in once.

    The proposed movie about ODB somehow turned into the story of a white VH-1 intern who hung out with ODB for a few weeks before he died.

    42 became a movie not about Jackie Robinson, but about white people nobly confronting their racism, a racism MLB talking heads barely even acknowledge (except in abstract terms) when Jackie Robinson is celebrated every year.

    The Blindside was less a story about a black teenager from difficult circumstances who found salvation and success in athletics than it was about the evolved attitudes of the rich white family that adopted him.

    Going back further, just about any movie about apartheid in South Africa was less about that institution's effect on black people and more about white people fighting with their collective conscience.

    Unless there is extensive change to this project, this is more of the same thing with a less polarizing figure directing it.

  • eyeknow | July 12, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    I am happy for Ava DuVernay, but I hope the character arc of the script is changed, but that is unlikely if there is a rush to put it out before the other MLK films. Unfortunately, based on Lee Daniels' account, it sounds like the typical Hollywood formula to make the film more about the white character, rather than the black character. Look at Django Unchained. The film was really made for the Dr. Schultz character as the lead, with Django as the "supporting" character. The film became more about Django when Dr. Schultz was killed. Django was then freed from his dependency on his mentor, and embraced his own destiny. "Selma" as a title makes it less about MLK, similar to "42" and the story of Jackie Robinson, which is another glossed over story.

  • Donella | July 12, 2013 3:21 PM

    Alm, I was just thinking that I would find it hard to believe duVernay would accept the job otherwise.

  • ALM | July 12, 2013 3:09 PM

    @ Eyeknow: You must not be very familiar with Ms. Duvernay's work. She and Daniels are basically polar opposites with regards to direction styles. Do not expected Selma to be "Django: Unchained" with regard to any aspect of the movie, especially with regard to the character focus.

  • CareyCarey | July 12, 2013 10:06 AMReply

    Hmmmm... "How about actually making a movie about Martin Luther King? Is that too much to ask for?"

    Hmmmm.... "I'm not sure if she has shown that she is ready to tackle a film that takes on such a much larger scope than her previous work"

    Okay, I'm feeling both Miles and Accidental, which begs the question (in my mind) why was she given this project? Well, since the bullseye is now on her, could this be a case of... Lady in The Scope -OR- Ring Around the Lady?

    I am suggesting that since Ava's a director with critical acclaim who black conservitive film critics love, she's the perfect buffer for a film with racial overtones. Unlike Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry (although both are accomplished money-makers) Ava doesn't carry the baggage of "A splintered black audience" (everybody loves Ava). Consequently, as Miles brought to the floor, a film focused on the White Savior (Lyndon Johnson) with MLK as a backdrop could get a pass when directed by our beloved black women of the month.

    Come on now, shouldn't we tell the truth and shame the devil? Surely we wouldn't be subjected to the misdirected negative comments on the director of The Butler if said director was Ava Duvernay -- would we? Would we see the following personal attacks?

    UHURUHOUSTON: "Lee Daniels and his movies comes off as a person that has been severly damaged by events in his life and the subject matter is dark and tiresome!!!"

    VAL: "You can add Oprah and Tyler Perry to that list"

    Really? That's what I'm talking about. Those types of comments will not be seen. That's right, big hitters will run interference for Ms. Duvernay. And, the watchful eye of the consevative black critic might turn a blind eye. Hell, who wants to contend with a group of angry black women singing Helen Reddy's popular song I Am Woman? I mean, only a glutton for punishment would get in the way of black women singing...

    "I am woman, hear me roar
    In numbers too big to ignore
    And I know too much to go back an' pretend
    'cause I've heard it all before
    And I've been down there on the floor
    No one's ever gonna keep me down again

    Hey, personally, I'd rather swallow a bottle of poison glass than tangle with that mob. So I guess I'll come back for the next episode of... A Big Blast -OR- A Many Splintered Thangs?

    Btw, ever actor should hire David Oyelowo's agent. Really, he convinced someone that Davy boy could represent a black American Union soldier during the Civil War, but Martin Luther King?

  • CareyCarey | July 13, 2013 9:29 PM

    @Lily... "different set of rules.... folks cuss you out if you don't like what they love"

    ...and their rebuttal might be a porous as Critical Acclaim's. But it's all good in the neighborhood. All closed eyes are not asleep and their ARE those, like you, who see the big picture. And, they don't mind voicing an opinion that stands out sharply and clearly from the most popular opinions. Granted, some in the other crowd will attempt to mute and/or intimidate those who vehemently disagree with them, but again, it's all good because they have to bring something (some ass or facts) in order to get this ass.

    So I agree, there were many aspects of I Will Follow that I enjoyed (some I didn't). However, unlike like many folks who frequent this board, I am not ready to give Ms DuVernay the key to the city. I mean, it's great that she's being given the opportunity to direct an episode of Scandal, however several black directors have been down that road (directing TV shows) many many times. And truth be told, Scandal is nothing more than a night-time soap.

    So, ONE-MO-TIME... I am not ready to give the Martin Luther King Jr feature project that Lee Daniels was once originally attached to helm, 2 black thumbs up just because a black woman has been attached. NO-NO-NO, bring me the details. Look at this--> "It's really Lyndon Johnson's story. Martin Luther King is a part of it, but it's really the arc of a man that starts out as a racist who is forced to look at himself in the mirror and then ultimately side with King." GTH out of here. Lyndon Baines Johnson did not "start out" as a racist, he died a racist. And only blind and gullible and uninformed fools believe he was the major force behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964. NO-NO-NO, John F. Kennedy originally proposed the civil rights bill in June 1963 to a Democratic-Controlled Congress.

    As it stands.... "Unless there is extensive change to this project, this is more of the same thing with a less polarizing figure directing it" ~ M.E

    And... "I'm not sure if she has shown that she is ready to tackle a film that takes on such a much larger scope than her previous work" ~ AV

    And... "It's really Lyndon Johnson's story. Martin Luther King is a part of it..." NO LIKE! ~ REGI

    Yep Lily, you see, we're not alone and don't be scurrred. Those other folks are going to do what they do (and they can't harm you) just do your thang.

  • critical acclaim | July 13, 2013 5:18 PM

    You're clearly bored. Get a life.

  • Lily | July 13, 2013 1:41 PM

    You hit the nail on the head once again CareyCarey. I totally agree with your assessment. I loved the actors, styling and music of I WILL FOLLOW but I thought the story was just too flat and boring. Would have loved discussing it here but, frankly, it seems to be a different set of rules when it comes to film criticism regarding work of women on this site. Folks cuss you out if you don't like what they love. *shrug* So I decided to keep my opinions to myself. I look forward to viewing MIDDLE OF NOWHERE soon.

  • CareyCarey | July 13, 2013 12:16 PM

    Yeah Lily, it's a valid and needed conversation which I believe Miles Ellison said best... "Unless there is extensive change to this project, this is more of the same thing with a less polarizing figure directing it."

    In reference to the director in question, Ava Duvernay, as Will Smith is a "safe" bet for white audiences, she's a perfect choice for black audiences and the "critical film watching crowd".

    In respect to the black crowd, we've shown signs of "hating" on those who have reached a high level of success. For instance, although Oprah and Tyler Perry have arguable done more for blacks in the film industry than any others on this earth, some will always find reasons to throw shade their way. Even Spike Lee (the greatest black director of all time) is not immune from the most ridiculous and trite attacks. Also, Antoine Fuqua, Morgan Freeman and JJ Walker were vilified by some in the black community for telling the truth on racial issues.

    But now we have the new darling of the film world. She has been chosen to direct a movie on the most important black figure of the twentieth century. And, she's not rich, she's not light-skin-did nor blue-black, so those issues are not on the table. Her sexual preference is a private affair so that issue also takes a back seat. She has only 2 major films, both of which were met with critical acclaim but little box office success (and hip-hip-hooray, she's directing an episode of Scandal), so there's nothing for black folks to pick apart. And, it's safe to say she's not an ex-model, so the "hate her 'cause she's "beautiful" crowd can have a seat. Now, what's left? Well... "Unless there is extensive change to this project, this is more of the same thing with a less polarizing figure directing it."

    But I hope folks don't view my/our opinion as a indictment against Ms. DuVernay. No-no-no, a thousand times no, I'd rather die than say yes. Hey, although I was not enamored with "I Will Follow" nor have I seen her latest film, who can deny her talent and dedication to the craft of film making? She has received many rewards and honors from respectable film societies, so her talent is without question.

    However, that said, the issue of a black icon, leader, family man, theologian and fierce fighter for civil rights is still on the table. As Miles noted, in the past, our most significant black figures have been relegated to a "less-than" and/or cartoon-ish characters when presented on the big screen, in an effort to appease white viewers. Consequently, if that be true (which it is), I'm simply suggesting that we not get caught with our pants down as we're championing Ms. DuVernay. In other words, I believe it's wise to be aware of the subterfuge of a thing called the Trojan Horse.

  • LiLy | July 12, 2013 10:42 PM

    Not gonna lie CareyCarey...You bring up some good points. It'll be interesting to see how folks "see" this project as opposed to the other films (THE HELP, THE BUTLER, etc...) they practically damned to hell. I guess folks will probably get "selective amnesia." lol

  • Miles Ellison | July 12, 2013 12:30 AMReply

    How about actually making a movie about Martin Luther King? Is that too much to ask for?

  • AccidentalVisitor | July 12, 2013 12:09 AMReply

    I'm not sure if she has shown that she is ready to tackle a film that takes on such a much larger scope than her previous work. That being said I still think she is an upgrade when compared to Daniels. In fact I would be more excited about "The Butler" too if she was the director.

  • RB | July 11, 2013 11:21 PMReply

    This great NewS! Go Ava~ Can't wait to see it. Cheers!

  • jasmine | July 11, 2013 10:12 PMReply

    Yeahhhhhh. Something to look forward too besides THE BUTLER.

  • ALM | July 11, 2013 8:16 PMReply

    Yay! Well earned opportunity....You never know who is watching. Ms. Duvernay's hard work in "Middle of Nowhere" has paid off.

  • ScriptTease | July 11, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    Ava has made and still is making her mark. "Black Women Rock".

  • Jug | July 11, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    Second that, HUGE!

  • Dankwa Brooks | July 11, 2013 4:35 PMReply

    BRAD PITT much like his buddy GEORGE CLOONEY seems to know how to pick a good project. They both make films for grown ups and not some Hollywood schlock. After reading about the absolute mess of a production 'World War Z' was for more than a year I was surprised that the final result was good—even if I wanted more gore.

    I said all that to say ONCE AGAIN I am so happy for my sister Ms. DuVernay. She couldn't have been picked by a better producer. Much Success with this project!

  • @JayTeeDee | July 11, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    OMG This is so AWESOME! Congrats to Ava!

  • Black Sun Tzu | July 11, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    These are WONDERFUL news!!! Congratulations to Ava. I look forward to seeing the end result.

  • A Fan | July 11, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    Fantastic news. Go with grace!

  • LeonRaymond | July 11, 2013 4:03 PMReply

    i could not agree more with this move. Not all films need Thor's Hammer to make a point or we don't need to show a Black man or woman on a toilet seat to smash home a scene. Some times we do need the clear subtle gestures as a director. And those images and dialogue last a life time as well. We can achieve the beauty of the thought and passion with out dehumanizing an entire culture and or a culture that is at arms distance. Ava showed superior restraint in her films. I applaud this move. The changing of the guard has begun!

  • Donella | July 11, 2013 3:49 PMReply

    Ooooh! Now that's news! I'm so glad Ava DuVernay got the gig! GO AVA!!!

  • regi | July 11, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    "It's really Lyndon Johnson's story. Martin Luther King is a part of it...": no like!

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