Paramount is in final talks to acquire domestic distribution rights to “Selma,” the long in-the-works feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement, and Oprah Winfrey has boarded the project as producer.
Ava DuVernay, who came aboard the project in July, rewrote the original script by Paul Webb and slipped it to Winfrey, who sparked to DuVernay’s rewrite, according to Deadline.com.
This marks the second MLK project that Winfrey is overseeing. Her Harpo production company is also behind a seven-part HBO miniseries “America: In the King Years.”
According to Deadline, the plan is to get “Selma” in front of cameras as soon as possible. Lining up a domestic deal and a name of Winfrey’s caliber were key to getting the ball rolling, and when the deal goes through, production is expected to start right away. Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Christian Colson are already aboard as producers.
Winfrey’s presence both on and off the screen was a big reason “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” did so well overseas, according to Deadline. The film has grossed $167.7 million to date — more than $50 million of that internationally. This gives “Selma” a leg up on the other two major MLK features that are percolating. Oliver Stone last month saw a script rewrite on his King biopic rejected by DreamWorks and Warner Bros, and it caused him to back out of the project. Meanwhile, Paul Greengrass still isn’t ready to move on his biopic “Memphis” that he plans to make with Scott Rudin.
Former publicist Ava DuVernay, the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance for her second feature, the 2012 drama “Middle Of Nowhere,” was approached by the “Selma” producers after they saw her microbudgeted indie, which was shot in 19 days in and around LA. Her “Nowhere” leading man David Oyelowo is set to play King.
“Selma” is the project Lee Daniels was attached to direct, but the funding couldn’t come together in time and he subsequently signed on to “The Butler.” Daniels had lined up a star-studded cast — Oyelowo, Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Robert De Niro, and Cedric the Entertainer were among those who’d circled. Jackman even gained 30 pounds to play Jim Clark, a sheriff who arrested King; he eventually had to go lose the weight to star in “Real Steel.”