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How Did “Selma” Become Linked with Protest Movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’?

After the film completed principal photography, 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking a heated nationwide debate over race relations that extended beyond the relationship between law enforcement and minorities. Selma was still in post-production when a grand jury declined to indict Wilson for Brown’s killing, and Selma director Ava DuVernay would watch live news coverage of protesters clashing with police officers during his breaks from editing the film.

Around that time, IndieWire interviewed DuVernay about her support for the Black Friday boycott campaign called Blackout. When asked if there was a parallel between the film’s story and the racial climate in Ferguson, Missouri (following the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting), DuVernay felt there was no argument. “An unarmed black citizen is assaulted with unreasonable force and fatal gunfire by a non-black person who is sworn to serve and protect them. A small town that is already fractured by unequal representation in local government and law enforcement begins to crack under the pressure. People of color, the oppressed, take to the street to make their voices heard. The powers-that-be seek to extinguish those voices with brute militarized force and disregard for constitutional rights. That was Selma 1965. That’s Ferguson right now.” DuVernay would reinforce that sentiment to The Wrap, telling them “Ferguson is a mirror of the past. And Selma is a mirror of now. We are in a sad, distorted continuum. It’s time to really look in that mirror.’’

Selma would eventually hold its premiere the day after the Millions March, a protest organized with groups like Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter, demanding justice for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. To show their solidarity, DuVernay and her cast members appeared in T-shirts emblazoned with Eric Garner’s last words, “I Can’t Breathe,” further solidifying the film’s identification with the country’s growing divide in race relations.