Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for best director Thursday for “Selma,” her drama about Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” DuVernay said by phone from Toronto, where she was attending a screening of the film. “To think that for so many decades black women who have been making beautiful things and haven’t been recognized, it’s hard to jump up and down for yourself. I hope it means more women of color have the opportunity so they don’t have to even think about it.”
“Selma” also collected Globes nominations for David Oyelowo, who plays King, for John Legend and Common for their original song “Glory," and for best picture in the drama category.
DuVernay’s nomination marks a racial and gender milestone for a film that itself depicts a racial milestone: the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“Selma,” which includes scenes of protesters clashing with police in 1965, is also seeing its release and awards campaign unfold in a time of increasing relevance due to recent events involving African Americans and police in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, and protests around the country.
“When we were making the movie, I was thinking about the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act,” DuVernay said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to overturn a key part of the 1965 law. “But the zeitgeist has raised the issues in a completely different way than I expected, because of police aggression and the power of protest.”
DuVernay, who co-wrote “Selma” with Paul Webb, wrapped production on her film in July; police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9.
DuVernay said the song “Glory,” which includes a reference to Ferguson, was written quickly in three weeks and that Legend’s grainy vocal track on it is the only time he sang the song in the studio.
“When we first started, we were doing the movie as a celebration of what [King] had achieved,” Oyelowo said. “But ... the conversation around the film has been shifting. In the same way that there needed to be voting reform, there is now need for police reform.”
The four Golden Globe nominations are among the first awards season honors “Selma” has collected -- because DuVernay just finished editing it, Paramount Pictures was unable to send finished screeners to the Screen Actors Guild, for instance, which did not include the film in its nominations on Wednesday.
Civil Rights era figures including Diane Nash, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, Sidney Poitier and Myrlie Evers-Williams attended a recent a screening in Santa Barbara hosted by Oprah Winfrey, who plays a role in the film.
“The Golden Globes nominations are great, but that has been the crowning moment,” Oyelowo said of the screening. “It was a huge relief that we had done them proud and we had got it right.”
Lewis, who is played by Stephan James in the film, will also host a screening for Congress in Washington on Thursday night, Oyelowo said.
“We go to the movies to see ourselves,” Oyelowo said. “We don’t go to see human beings who are untouchable. It accentuates the heroism, the fact that these were human beings and they did it anyway.”