Parties and protests don’t typically overlap, but the “Selma” cast made an exception and a statement on Sunday night following the film’s Manhattan premiere. At one point during the otherwise splashy festivities, director Ava DuVernay took to the steps of the New York Public Library with actors David Oyelowo, E. Roger Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, Omar Dorsey, John Lavelle, Stephan James, Kent Faulcon, Lorraine Toussaint, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson and Colman Domingo, donning “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts over their partywear and raising their arms in the “don’t shoot” pose.
It was not just an unusually sobering photo op, but also a direct acknowledgment of the eerie timing of Paramount’s civil rights drama, with its scenes of organized protest and its urgent plea for justice and reform. The premiere was held the same weekend that more than 25,000 men and women marched through Manhattan, in the largest protest the city has seen since a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.
The picture’s timeliness is undeniable, said Toussaint, who plays the civil rights activist Amelia Boynton. “There are no accidents,” she said. “I’m so proud to be a part of this film, and I’m so proud of Ava’s accomplishment. To bear witness to the fact that this voice is being heard at this moment … it speaks to the times and the needs of this time, too.”
Introducing the screening, along with Oyelowo and producers Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, DuVernay noted that the last time she had set foot in the historic Ziegfeld Theater, it was in her capacity as a publicist. That was back in 2006, at the New York premiere of “Dreamgirls.”
“I was on that film for a year,” DuVernay recalled at the afterparty. “I remember what Jennifer Hudson wore. I remember what Beyonce wore. It was a madhouse of A-list celebrities, and I walked that same carpet.” Is it better walking it as a filmmaker rather than a flack? “A little better, a little better. I’ve got better gear on than that black suit.”
Fortunately for actor Alessandro Nivola, the premiere was held on his one night off from “The Elephant Man,” the Broadway play in which he’s currently starring alongside Bradley Cooper. Nivola had to dash over to the Ziegfeld from the matinee, just in time for the film’s 6 p.m. screening.
“I would’ve walked offstage a little early to get to the red carpet if it had meant that I was going to miss it (otherwise),” Nivola said.
He noted that it was a treat to work again with Oyelowo, with whom he also appeared in “Who Do You Love” and the upcoming “A Most Violent Year.” “He was particularly inspired in this particular role by his faith. Whether or not you believe in God, when you see somebody who feels that drive in him in a performance, it’s a pretty powerful thing.”
Also in attendance were Paramount chairman-CEO Brad Grey, Viacom president-CEO Philippe Dauman, James Schamus and Harvey Weinstein, as well as “Selma” actors Carmen Ejogo, Common, Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson. Paramount will roll the film out on Christmas Day in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., followed by a wide release on Jan. 9.