Watch the first trailer for 'Selma,' the much-anticipated film

Civil rights film: The story of the great 1965 civil rights march


MIAMI – In "Selma," director Ava DuVernay charts the course of several seminal months of the American civil rights movement, from Bloody Sunday until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

The trailer for the much-anticipated film was released Thursday night. DuVernay won Best Director at Sundance in 2012 for her film "Middle of Nowhere."

Bloody Sunday, which took place March 7, 1965, refers to the attack on 600 civil rights activists who were attempting to march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery. They were protesting the death of Jimmy Lee Jackson, a protester who was shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper that February outside the Dallas County, Ala., courthouse. When the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus bridge, they were met by an army of police and Alabama state troopers who assaulted the crowd with tear gas and billy clubs when they refused to turn around.


John Lewis, now a U.S. Representative from Georgia, was on the front lines, and has recalled his experience of being beaten by police so badly he had to be hospitalized. King led a second march, March 9, but protesters were again turned back at the bridge. It wasn't until Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson ruled that the activists had the right to march the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery that marchers successfully embarked on a five-day journey, covering 12 miles a day, starting March 21. By the time the crowd reached Montgomery, it had grown to 25,000 people. On August 6, the Voting Rights Act passed.

"Selma" is set for a limited release Christmas Day, followed by a nationwide release Jan. 9, 2015, in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

For these activists, there is a backdrop of disappointment surrounding "Selma's" release, thanks to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that rolled back a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Attorney General Eric Holder called the ruling a "serious setback for voting rights." In October, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas' new stringent voter-ID law, which requires a photo ID to vote, was constitutional. North Carolina adopted its own set of voter-ID guidelines in August, which were signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory. The North Carolina law shortened the early voting period and requires voters to present government photo ID at the polls.

"Selma" features an impressive ensemble cast that includes David Oyelowo as King, Wendell Pierce as Hosea Williams, and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper. Cooper was an activist who attempted to register to vote and punched Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) and knocked him off his feet after Clark poked her neck with a billy club. When he recovered, deputies held Cooper down while Clark beat her with his club.

"If (the right to vote) didn't happen, there wouldn't have been an Oprah Winfrey," DuVernay told Entertainment Weekly. "There was a poetry to seeing Oprah walk down that hallway of the registrar's office only to be rejected and told to sit her black butt down."