Former Atlanta Mayor, U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young shares thoughts on “Selma”

Add former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young to the long and prominent list of fans showering “Selma” with acclaim.

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AJC file photo

The movie, a good portion of which was filmed in metro Atlanta, has earned Golden Globe nominations for best picture/drama, best actor (David Oyelowo), best director (Ava DuVernay) and best original song (“Glory”). It’s also generated considerable Oscar buzz and accolades from critics and Civil Rights Movement heroes such as U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

“I was very moved by the film ‘Selma,’ ” said Lewis who is portrayed by Stephan James in the movie. “It just took me back. I cried at several places in the film. It just made it so real.”

Young is portrayed by André Holland in the film.

“I think they did a magnificent job of telling the story,” he said. “It’s 90 percent factually accurate. They got the the whole story right.”

So what about that 10 percent?

“The hardest part for people to get was his sense of humor,” Young said of his friend Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., portrayed by Oyelowo. “He was a joker. He liked to tease and clown.”

While the movie captures King’s dedication, bravery and oratorical genius, it does touch in part on his lighthearted side. One scene features a relaxed, happy meal with some of his friends and colleagues. Another scene, which takes place in a jail cell, portrays his ability to smile even when things looked bleak.

“He made us laugh,” Young said. He had high praise for both the performances and the screenplay.

“I had discussed the script with Oprah and Ava,” he said, referring to Oprah Winfrey, who served as both a producer and cast member, and DuVernay, the film’s director. “They really did a wonderful job.”

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Actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay work on a scene in “Selma.” Photo credit: Paramount

While “Selma” portrays one of our nation’s ugliest chapters it also captures the impact of peaceful, organized movements and the power that can come from people joining together for change.

“We went not knowing how things were going to work out,” Young said of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march movement seeking equal rights. “It was really a move on faith. It was out of a desperate need of the people of the black belt that we went to Selma.”

The movie opened in limited release on Christmas Day at two Atlanta theaters and a few other spots around the country, and opens nationwide on Jan. 9. It will be screened for free at the Selma Walton Theater in the small Alabama town where key scenes were filmed, Paramount Pictures has announced.

“The city and people of Selma welcomed the production with open arms,” Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said in a statement. “We are incredibly excited and very humbled to be bringing Ava’s finished film to the community.”

Young would have loved a big splash here to herald the film’s opening. Major scenes were filmed at area locations including the Georgia state Capitol building and the Cobb-Marietta Museum of Art.

“I was hoping we would have had a bigger premiere here in Atlanta, like we did back in the day with ‘Gone With the Wind,’” he said. “But I do hope everybody gets to see it.”

And he hopes the movie’s nationwide release will bring about conversation and progress.

“While we were talking about desegregation and voting rights, the issues today are essentially economic issues,” Young said. “I don’t see black and white or black and blue. I see everybody having problems with green.”


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