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Paramount Pictures Jumps On Board Ava DuVernay's 'Selma' w/ Oprah Winfrey Producing

by Tambay A. Obenson
February 26, 2014 1:24 PM
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Ava DuVernay

Finally, one of a handful of Martin Luther King Jr projects that we've been tracking for years now, inches closer to becoming a reality, separating itself from the pack.

It all started last month, with Oprah Winfrey coming on board to act as a producer on Ava DuVernay's MLK pic, Selma, which David Oyelowo is attached to star in. 

Announced this week, the project gets a major lift thanks to a Hollywood studio in Paramount, negotiating to acquire domestic distribution rights to the film, with the goal being to launch production as soon as possible.

DuVernay took over directing duties of the film from Lee Daniels, who had long been attached to helm, but faced a financing wall (among other hurdles), and moved on to other projects.

Winfrey joins the Pathe UK-backed project, which already boasts Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Christian Colson (who won an Oscar for producing Slumdog Millionaire) as producers. Talk about a quad of heavies behind the project.


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

So it's not specifically an MLK biopic, as other MLK projects in development we know of, are.

It's worth noting that Oprah also has an HBO miniseries on MLK in the works, announced a few years ago. No word on what the status of that project is, given her attachment to DuVernay's Selma.

The other key MLK project we know of is Paul Greengrass' Memphis, which we learned, most recently, Forest Whitaker will star in.

Oliver Stone's project, which was to star Jamie Foxx, is dead. 

In addition to Oyelowo, the cast of Daniels' original Selma (before DuVernay took over) 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 any of them is still attached or even interested.

I should also note, in closing, that it was in 2012 when Lee Daniels, apparently unable to get Selma off the ground, announced that he was 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. It would be based on William Pepper's book of the same name, which had already been adapted to screenplay format, and was apparently ready to be shot, with Millennium Films producing and finance the film.

Last we checked, over a year ago, the project was being shopped around to distributors in Hollywood. But no word on whether it's still alive. Likely not.

For years, films about the Civil Rights Leader and icon have stalled, with disapproval of content (specifically depictions of MLK in each script) by influential voices (Andrew Young and the King Estate notably) being a primary hurdle. 

It however looks like Selma is on its way to becoming a reality, finally, especially with Oprah, and now Paramount, jumping on board.

This will mark DuVernay's first big budget (relative to the budgets for the indie features she's previously directed) Hollywood studio picture. 

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More: Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey

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  • Donella | February 27, 2014 4:54 PMReply

    Sounds like Ava duVernay's doing many things right.

  • CareyCarey | February 26, 2014 8:47 PMReply

    If Oprah is involved this is WILL be a GRAND AFFAIR... far removed from that Lifetime fiasco "Betty & Coretta". That reminds me, please, no Angela Bassett - this time.

    Listen, although Sergio said she could over-act brushing her teeth, that's not my major concern - this time. I am more concerned with waking up one morning to find her playing the role of my momma or wife. I mean, gee wiz, aren't there any other black actresses who can play a black icon or the mother of a famous black person?

    Mirror-Mirror hear my call, who's that face on my wall... tell me, tell me, tell me true, cuz at this time - I'm slightly confused.

    That's Rosa Parks... no, that's Angela Bassett.
    That's Biggie's momma... no, that's Angela Bassett (Notorious)
    That's Michael Jackson's momma... no, that's Angela Bassett (The Jackson's: An American Dream)
    That's Dr. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's wife... no, that's Angela Bassett (Malcolm X)
    That's Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's wife... no, that's Angela Bassett (Betty and Coretta)
    That's Sabrina Watson's (Paula Patton's) momma.... no, that's Angela Bassett (Jumping The Broom)
    That's Tre's (Cuba Gooding Jr.) momma... no, that's Angela Bassett (Boyz In The Hood)
    No, that's Ike Turner's wife... no, that's Angela Bassett (What's Love Got To Do With It?)
    NO, that's Danny Glover's wife (Gospel Hill) & (Boesman and Lena)... no, that's Aretha Cobbs, Forest Whitaker's wife (Black Nativity) No no no, that's Angela Bassett!

    STOP IT!... please make it go away. No more Angela Bassett playing the black everybody's wife and momma... she's waaay overexposed in the hood!

    Side note: Who did I miss? I know Ms. Bassett had to be married to somebody else who didn't make my list?

    Btw, she's actually married to Courtney B. Vance... and their children's names are actually Bronwyn Vance, Slater Vance.

  • etc | February 26, 2014 10:23 PM

    Robert Dinero's wife (The Score)

  • Dankwa Brooks | February 26, 2014 6:25 PMReply

    The news just gets better and better for Ava. So happy that her film is speeding towards production.

    I'm also very interested in ORDERS TO KILL. I did an inordinate amount of research about the Dr. King assassination for my award winning script DOWN WITH THE KING. That script was produced for local television in Baltimore and I've been intrigued by that mystery ever since. In fact my script was influenced by Oliver Stone's JFK. (You can search my name and "Down with the King" for more info)

    I wold love to hear more info on 'Orders to Kill"

  • CareyCarey | February 26, 2014 7:01 PM

    Dankwa (interesting name... pronounced?), are you saying your script "Order To Kill" was actually made into a movie?

  • Alias | February 26, 2014 4:37 PMReply

    Only one person for the role of Coretta: Angela Bassett. Done and done.

  • Moulin | February 26, 2014 4:21 PMReply

    Congrats Ava.

  • ramaj | February 26, 2014 2:37 PMReply

    Can't wait to see who she puts in to play Coretta. Kerry would be good. Or Nia Long.

  • Cordell | February 26, 2014 4:26 PM

    I can see the following actresses being cast as Coretta

    -Salli Richardson-Whitfield
    -Sanaa Lathan
    -Nicole Beharie
    -Kerry Washington
    -Gugu Mbatha-Raw
    -Jurnee Smollett

  • Ramaj | February 26, 2014 2:39 PM

    Or Gabrielle or Sallie Richards since they worked together before.

  • Ari | February 26, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    Much rather see Ava DuVernay than Lee Daniels directing. Daniels is too messy and over dramatic. Ava will ground the film to make it interesting without going over the top. I'm ready for this.

  • Detra | February 26, 2014 1:31 PMReply

    Deadline says she wrote the script too. Is there anything this queen can't do? I love watching her star rise. I hope this movie is as good as it deserves to be for all the people who fought for our rights today.

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