Like other films based on historical events, Selma has attracted controversy -- in this case, controversy that arose after we taped our interview with director Ava DuVernay. The issue is the film's depiction of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, with a Johnson historian and some others contending that the film doesn't give the president enough credit for his support of the Voting Rights Act. Others, who covered the events depicted in the film for the New York Times, including Gay Talese, have defended the movie.
DuVernay has not directly engaged in the debate, saying on Twitter: "Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don't take my word for it or LBJ rep's word for it."
If any filmmaker should be prepared to deal with controversy, it's DuVernay, who had a long career as a film publicist before she started writing and directing movies.
DuVernay discusses how she made the transition from promoting films to making them, and how she built her career one step at a time, finding and writing about topics that resonated with her and also worked within a small budget.
DuVernay's goal was to make films consistently, not necessarily to make films with bigger and bigger budgets. But she did make a jump when she signed on with Selma, working with a larger cast and larger budget than she ever had before. Before DuVernay got involved, Selma had been passed from director to director, then largely abandoned, except by David Oyelowo, the actor portraying King. In a reversal of the norm, Oyelowo sought out DuVernay and "cast" her as his director. The two had worked together in DuVernay's previous films, 'Middle of Nowhere.'
There were still major hurdles to getting the film off the ground, namely that DuVernay didn't have the rights to any of King's speeches, which are private intellectual property. So she set about writing words for her film's version of King herself, a process that she jokes finally put her English and African American studies degree to good use.
Now, Selma has made a little bit of history of its own. DuVernay is the first African American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director.