Selma: A Movie For Peace

Selma: A Movie For Peace

Thursday, February 19, 2015 10:26 am

Funsho Arogundade

United States Mission To Nigeria and House On The Rock premiere the highly acclaimed biopic, Selma, in Lagos to promote non-violence during this year’s election

Crowds gathering on the expansive foyer of the multi-billion naira The Rock Cathedral of the House On The Rock Church in Lekki, Lagos are a common spectacle. But on the evening of Sunday 8 February, there were different shades of people who thronged the church, this time neither to worship nor listen to the charismatic senior pastor of the church, Paul Adefarasin. On the contrary, the gaily dressed crowd were there to mingle with the British-Nigerian born actor, David Oyelowo, and be part of the Nigeria premiere of the 2014 American historical drama, Selma.

Oyelowo was in Lagos on the invitation of the church and the United States Consulate to promote the movie and the United4Peace Campaign of the US Mission in Nigeria.

Homeboy Oyelowo is the lead star of the film also featuring Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Wendell Pierce, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth and rapper, Common.

Oyelowo plays the lead role as Africa-American civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr., while another British-born actress, Carmen Ejogo, plays his opposite as Coretta Scott-King in the movie. And Oyelowo has been impressing critics with his arresting portrayal of King Jnr.

•Oyelowo (standing) as Martin Luther King Jr and other activists in the movie.

•Oyelowo (standing) as Martin Luther King Jr and other activists in the movie.

Sporting a black blazer on a white shirt and square-shaped medicated eye glasses, Oyelowo expressed his excitement to be home for the premiere of the movie and acknowledged the timeliness of the movie to the current political experience in Nigeria.

He noted that it was a thing of joy for him to make a movie that would speak to the need of the country’s social and political development, adding that he particularly found the film appealing and fulfilling because it preaches values that are noble and universal.

“There is no greater happiness for an artiste than to see his work find acceptance and relevance in the society. When a film comes alive that glorifies love, social justice and other relevant values, you know that doesn’t come every day. One of the characteristics I admire in human beings is sacrificial love as symbolised by Jesus Christ. What Dr King was preaching is that in God’s eyes we are all equal. The love he has for us we should have for one another. If we emulate him, the world will be a better place. There is the need for love to overcome hate,” Oyelowo said.

He added: “Nigeria is my country of birth and I spent seven years of my life here and we all must contribute our quota towards its development and the peaceful co-existence of the people living therein. I feel so honoured coming home to promote this movie,” Oyelowo said.

He urged Nigerians to eschew violence and embrace peace, which he said was the central theme of the movie, Selma.

“The non-violence message of the movie is worth drawing inspiration from. While others were advocating for freedom by any means necessary including violence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the power of words and acts of non-violent resistance to achieve seemingly impossible goals. I will encourage Nigerian politicians to embrace this message,” he advised.

The chief host, Adefarasin said his church chose to partner with the United States Mission to premiere Selma in a bid to foster and promote non-violence ahead of the 2015 general elections.

“As Nigeria embarks on the critical task of further entrenching its nascent democracy, we are using this movie Selma to speak to and embed in the consciousness of all Nigerians the benefits of employing non-violent methods to achieve a credible transition in a peaceful atmosphere devoid of fear-stoked actions. It is only by committing to non-violence that we believe Nigeria can reform, develop and take her place as a leader in the comity of nations,” Adefarasin told TheNEWS at the premiere.

He noted that regardless of ethnicity, religion or political persuasion, Nigeria must remain united and peaceful. “Our church, House On The Rock, is positioned as a centre for social justice and equity, thus we have decided to bring people from various classes in the Nigerian society together for a remarkable event where we can all stand united for peace at a time like this,” he added.

•Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper in the movie

•Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper in the movie

Selma, the Oscar-nominated biopic, is directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb and Ava DuVernay. It chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside James Bevel, Hosea Williams and John Lewis, led a dangerous campaign from Selma to Montgomery to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition.

At the premiere, Ambassador James F. Entwistle, US Ambassador to Nigeria, described the late civil rights icon as a leader who expanded the reach of American democracy to Americans of African descent.

He said as Nigerians prepare to go to the polls next month, it is auspicious for everyone to reflect on Dr. King Jr.’s life and message via the movie.

The ambassador also dismissed the widely rumoured insinuations that the American government had predicted that Nigeria would split anytime from 2015.

•L-R: Paul Adefarasin, Emeka Anyaoku and another guest

•L-R: Paul Adefarasin, Emeka Anyaoku and another guest

Entwistle stated that Nigeria is not different from all other countries in the world with various degrees of challenges but that would not make them split. He drew comparisons with his own country, United States, which he said had had its fair share of political challenges and that did not make it split.

“Nigeria is a strong country that had not shown any sign of disintegration, wonder why people would predict such,” he said.

The global buzz the movie is generating was also felt at its Lagos premiere with scores of Nigerian movie luminaries in attendance, sharing in the excitement, especially with an actor of Nigerian descent as the lead figure in the flick.

“Selma is absolutely a beautiful and very topical film with values like peace, tolerance and fairness. It is well handled with tremendous climaxes. I am particularly very proud of the lead actor, David Oyelowo. His acting is very good,” said veteran movie actor, Olu Jacobs.

Selma was premiered on 11 November, 2014 at the American Film Institute Festival. It began a limited US release on 25 December, 2014, and expanded into wide theatrical release on 9 January, 2015, just two months before the 50th anniversary of the march.

Selma had four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director and Best Actor, and it won for Best Original Song. It also garnered nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.

The Man, Oyelowo

Here is what makes David Oyelowo tick

“In Britain, David Oyelowo was feeling limited. A brilliant actor who can melt inside of a role and turn in a performance worthy of high praise from his contemporaries.” That was how New York-based online journal, BUZZFEED NEWS capture the personality of this British-Nigerian actor.

Oyelowo was actually getting bored with little roles assigned to him and other black actors in Britain, he feels less challenged. He has had minor success doing prestigious work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but breaking into TV and films proved to be challenging. And he envisioned more for himself when he fancied a performance art career. In May 2007, the actor and his wife Jessica with their two children, Caleb and Asher, made the decision to head to Los Angeles, with the hope that he would find the type of work fitting for his training at the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Just two months into his stay in his new found home, the script for now globally-acclaimed film, Selma, was dropped into his lap.

Golden Globe-nominated Oyelowo broke through with his historic “colour blind” casting as Henry VI in the lauded 2000 RSC production, but it’s his role as another King, Dr Martin Luther Jr., that is primed to make 2015 his year with the biopic of the US civil rights leader. And for Oyelowo, it was no ordinary job.

“I first read this script in 2007. I was in a time of prayer and I literally felt God say, ‘You are going to play Martin Luther King in the film Selma,” recalled Oyelowo, who appeared as the doomed spy, Danny Hunter, on BBC’s Spooks.

•David Oyelowo.

•David Oyelowo.

In between the time he got the Selma script, he has handled much material that has allowed him to push himself to the next level. Aside Selma, Oyelowo has since played major supporting roles in other great films including Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Red Tails, Middle of Nowhere, Lincoln, and The Butler. Many were shocked that, given his stellar performance in Selma, he is deserving of an Oscar nod, but the Academy has not looked his way. Ava DuVernay, Selma director, however said she was disappointed that Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wasn’t recognized with an Oscar nod. “I was hurt by the fact that David wasn’t nominated because I know what it took to get that performance. I don’t need anyone to tell me that it’s one of the best performances of 2014; no one needs to even say that to me because I already know,” DuVernay said at the film’s premiere in Berlin.

Oyelowo was born on 1 April 1976 in Oxford, United Kingdom, to Nigerian parents—an Oyo State dad and Edo State mom. When he was growing up, he said his dad was convinced his acting dreams were just a phase. He said he had to “sneakily” apply to drama school knowing his parent’s wouldn’t approve. But when he earned a scholarship to the distinguished London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, his father’s reaction wasn’t what he was hoping for. But Oyelowo said everything changed one night when his dad came to watch him perform in Henry VI. He played the King of England at the RSC, making him first black actor to be cast in that role. It was a major moment not just for Oyelowo, but also for his father, who had experienced intense racism in the country in his younger years.

“[My father] had come to the U.K. when racism was incredibly overt in the ’60s. He had hot tea poured in his face. He was applying for a job and was spat at, physically spat at in the face. After watching my performance, he met me at the stage door and said, ‘I cannot believe this, that in this country they would allow a black man to be the King of England, and it is my son.’ That was the moment beyond which he became my number one fan,” Oyelowo said.

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