Martin Luther King film debuts to Oscar buzz

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Selma, a powerful new film about civil rights icon Martin Luther King, triumphed at its premiere in Los Angeles last week - while critics are predicting awards-season glory.

Starring Oprah Winfrey and Interstellar star David Oyelowo, it received a standing ovation in Hollywood as industry journal Variety forecast "considerable box-office and awardsseason gold".

Due for limited release on Dec 25 to qualify for the Oscars, it focuses on a short period after the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, the law that abolished segregation in the United States south. But African Americans still faced bullying tactics to prevent them from registering to vote.

The movie opens with a racist bomb attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black schoolgirls, but rapidly turns to Selma, another town in the southern US state known as the cradle of the civil rights struggle.

Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper, a modest and dignified nurse trying to register to vote, but who is blocked and humiliated by a small-town official.

King, who had already won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, heads to Selma to lead demonstrations and a celebrated march on the Alabama capital, Montgomery. The violent clampdown on so-called Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, sparked a national scandal and triggered a movement that forced then President Lyndon Johnson to proclaim the Voting Rights Act later that year.

The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, is co-produced by Pathe, the company which financed last year's Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, and Winfrey and Brad Pitt's Plan B production company.

Oyelowo plays King as determined and charismatic, yet human. The film depicts the US Secret Service's attempts to trip him up.

"David is the reason I came on board" the movie, said Winfrey at the American Film Institute festival in Los Angeles, which wound up last Thursday. She said they had become "fast friends" on the set of The Butler (2013). Oyelowo, of Nigerian origin, said he dreamed in 2007 that he would one day play King.

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