Celebrate MLK Day with free 10th anniversary screening of ‘Selma’ at AFI Silver Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Selma' at the AFI Silver Theatre (Part 1)
A scene from the movie "Selma." (Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount Pictures/AP)

Are you looking for a powerful way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with your neighbors next Monday, Jan. 15?

The AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland is hosting a free 10th anniversary screening of “Selma” (2014).

“This is a long tradition of having a free screening on MLK Day,” Director of Programming Abbie Algar told WTOP. “Typically we show a film called ‘King: A Filmed Record…Memphis to Montgomery’ from 1970, an epic 3 1/2-hour documentary … but this year we’ve opted to show ‘Selma.’ … It’s just a way of offering something back to the community, bringing people together and an opportunity to learn more about what MLK Day really represents.”

Set in 1965, the film chronicles MLK’s struggle for equal voting rights for Black Americans by staging a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Rather than tell his entire life story, director Ava DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb show a specific slice of history building up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination, Jim Crow measures still blocked Black folks from the ballot box in many states.

“It covers a very specific period of history [and] the Selma to Montgomery marches that went on to enable to the Voting Rights Act to be passed in 1965,” Algar said. “It covers this very difficult process that all of the people involved in these marches went to make them happen. At the same time, King is lobbying President Johnson for help. … I think there were three total [marches] and a couple of them ended in violence on the part of the police.”

The film features a powerful, Golden Globe-nominated performance by David Oyelowo, who makes us forget that we’re watching an actor and makes us believe that we’re watching King in the flesh. He’s backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Carmen Ojogo, Oprah Winfrey, Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Common, Tessa Thompson, Jeremy Strong, André Holland, LaKeith Stanfield and Colman Domingo.

“[Oyelowo] is incredible,” Algar said. “He disappears into the role and it’s Martin Luther King in front of you giving these speeches. … He’s giving life to these words and the feeling of these words with his performance. … I’m still surprised that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar that year. … A lot of the people who starred in this film have gone on to have incredible careers and some you’ll see some of them in films in the Oscar conversation this year.”

While the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it was sadly snubbed for Best Director. DuVernay’s camera brilliantly hovers above and behind King’s head, symbolizing the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Just the really immersive feeling that she managed to create and also the way that she worked with her cast,” Algar said. “This is a massive cast of people and she got excellent performances from everyone, which is not an easy thing to do. It’s tough being a director and she was the head of the ship and steered it in a great direction.”

At least it won an Oscar for the John Legend and Common song “Glory,” which also won a Grammy.

“It’s a great song and I think it stands the test of time,” Algar said. “I was listening to it the other day because I was going through this year’s shortlisted songs and it’s still really powerful. I’m really glad that it ended up winning. There should have been more Oscars in there, but this was a very deserving one for John Legend and Common — and Common of course is also in the film acting, so that’s another cool part of that.”

The free screening is Monday at noon in the historic main auditorium of the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. Tickets are available at the box office starting at 11:15 a.m. Monday with a limit of four tickets per person.

The screening arrives the same week as DuVernay’s magnum opus “Origin” on Friday, Jan. 19.

Find more info on the free “Selma” screening here.

Listen to the full conversation with Abbie Algar here.

Listen to Jason’s 2015 convo with David Oyelowo here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Selma' at the AFI Silver Theatre (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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