At the height of the Ferguson protests a few months ago, many observers noted that the highly militarized police response to demonstrators conjured up painful images of police resistance to the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that the first trailer for Ava DuVernay’s Selma in turn echoes the still-fresh imagery of Ferguson: the faceoff between peaceful black marchers and gas mask-wearing police, the climactic and violent clash.
Selma, which stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., focuses on the struggle to secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the historic, deadly Selma-to-Montgomery marches. I’ll admit I’m a little wary of yet another big cinematic take on the well-documented Civil Rights era; sometimes it seems like Hollywood only supports films with large black casts if they’re set in that one specific time period. (See also, just from the last few years: The Butler, The Help, and even the James Brown biopic Get On Up.) That said, having DuVernay at the helm is reason enough to be optimistic—she has proven equally capable of directing intimate, nuanced stories (Middle of Nowhere) and crazy, melodramatic ones (a particularly heavy episode of Scandal).
Add the narrow focus of the film and an impressive supporting cast—Tom Wilkinson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tim Roth, Common, Lorraine Touissant, Oprah Winfrey—and this movie could well be genuinely gripping as well as frustratingly relevant. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas, and in other cities in January.