Tim Roth grew up during the Civil Rights Era. He said he remembers George Wallace, thought of him as a "monster," and was "amazed at what was coming out of his mouth."
The Martin Luther King Jr. estate had already licensed the film rights for his civil right speeches to DreamWorks and Warner Brothers for a yet to be produced biopic. For this film, Ava DuVernay wrote new variations of those speeches.
David Oyelowo's last scene to be filmed was the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. He immediately broke down into tears after wrapping the scene, to enthusiastic applause from extras and crew.
Lee Daniels was originally set to direct. The original cast included Hugh Jackman as Sheriff Jim Clark, Liam Neeson as Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert De Niro as segregationist governor George Wallace, Cedric the Entertainer as minister and activist Ralph Abernathy, and'Lenny Kravitz' as activist Andrew Young. David Oyelowo was attached to star as Martin Luther King Jr. When Ava DuVernay took over as director, Oyelowo was the only casting decision she didn't change.
Carmen Ejogo met with Coretta Scott King the first time she played King in 2001. King approved of her portrayal.
David Oyelowo fought very hard for 7 years to get the role of Martin Luther King Jr. Lee Daniels, the original director, eventually cast him. Oyelowo convinced the producers that Ava DuVernay was the right director to take over the project.
Although she receives no screen writing credit, Ava DuVernay claimed to have done a 90% rewrite of Paul Webb's original script, including writing all of King's speeches.
Some critics have disputed the film's depiction of Lyndon Johnson as a reluctant supporter of Voting Rights and an opponent of the Selma March. However, while it's accepted that Johnson was a strong ally of the Civil Rights movement, by some accounts (including those of Civil Rights leader, John Lewis), even with the pressure from Martin Luther King and other activists, his support of the march was with reservation.
In 1985, George Wallace received an honorary degree from Tuskegee University, the historically black university made famous by Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Wallace had renounced his position on segregation and had made a record number of black appointments to State positions during his final term as governor.
Although the film is American and takes place in the South, the primary cast members are all British: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, and Tim Roth.
During their White House meeting, President Lyndon B. Johnson implores Alabama governor George Wallace to consider his future legacy, saying, "George, you and I shouldn't be thinking about 1965, we should be thinking about 1985." Lyndon B. Johnson died in 1973. In 1985, George Wallace was still alive, and two years into his fourth and final term as Alabama governor.
After Lee Daniels left the project, David Oyelowo campaigned for Ava DuVernay to take over as director.
In response to criticisms regarding the film's historical accuracy, director Ava DuVernay tweeted: "[the] bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don't take my word for it or a Lyndon B. Johnson rep's word for it. Let it come alive for yourself."
The screenplay was featured in the 2007 Blacklist, a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year.
The film was in development for several years, with Oyelowo's name attached. It was not until he worked with Oprah Winfrey on The Butler, and influenced her to produce the film, that the project was given the greenlight.
Director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo's omissions from the 2015 Academy Award Nominations sparked an outcry from moviegoers and Hollywood insiders. Their omissions have been credited to the lack of racial diversity in Hollywood. In addition, the film was completed at the very end of November 2014, so Paramount was unable to manufacture and send "screeners" to members of the Academy in time for all of them to see it before the nomination period closed on January 8th, 2015. The absence of screeners also accounted for the film's lack of Screen Actors Guild nominations.
Directors interested in directing the script included Steven Spielberg, Stephen Frears, Paul Haggis, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Michael Mann.
One of the actors in Selma is Henry Sanders, who starred in Killer of Sheep (1978), a film that the Library of Congress declared a "national treasure" and one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry. The National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the "100 Essential Films" of all time. In the movie Selma, Henry portrays octogenarian Cager Lee, who was brutally beaten by Alabama law enforcement officers who would then slay his grandson while he lay bloodied and helpless.
It's not mentioned in the film, but Diane Nash and James Bevel were married during the time period covered. They married in 1961, had 2 children, and divorced in 1968 (the same year King was assassinated).
Max Greenfield was considered for a role in this film. He declined the audition, feeling that some audiences would be distracted by his presence, since his most famous role is "Schmidt" on the sitcom New Girl (2011).
This is another film where Martin Sheen is featured as a judge. A previous film featuring Sheen as a judge is Dead Presidents (1995). Sheen is uncredited in both films.
Ava DuVernay offered the role of Richie Jean Jackson to Niecy Nash after watching her in Getting On (2012).
There is still debate about whether Martin Luther King Jr. was right- or left-handed.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any of the writing categories.
Six male directors had turned this film down before Ava DuVernay was ultimately offered, and accepted, the opportunity to direct.
The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Common and Cuba Gooding Jr.; and three Oscar nominees: Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey and Tim Roth.
The movie's title comes from the name of the city, Selma, in Alabama, which is the starting place of the historic voting rights march shown in the movie.
Carmen Ejogo had already played Coretta Scott King once, in the 2001 TV movie Boycott. She had even married the actor who played Dr. Martin Luther King in that movie, Jeffrey Wright, although they later divorced.
The only film that year to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but not at the Producers Guild of America Awards.