'Selma' Stirs Powerful Memories In Its Namesake Town : Code Switch At a free screening of the film in Selma, Ala., many in the audience — both black and white — had firsthand connections to the history portrayed on the screen.
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'Selma' Stirs Powerful Memories In Its Namesake Town

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'Selma' Stirs Powerful Memories In Its Namesake Town

'Selma' Stirs Powerful Memories In Its Namesake Town

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Golden Globe Awards are tonight, and one film that could take home a few statues is "Selma." The movie depicts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

This weekend, Paramount Pictures began free screenings in the movie's namesake town in Alabama. Andrew Yeager with member stationed WBHM went to see how residents are reacting to the Hollywood version of events.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey there. Welcome to the Walton Theater. Enjoy the movie.

ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: It's a half an hour until show time, and the majority of seats are already taken. In the front row in the far left seat is 85-year-old George Sallie. He's black, grew up near Selma and was drafted as a young man.

GEORGE SALLIE: I went to Korea fighting for somebody else's freedom. And really, I didn't have freedom myself.

YEAGER: Sallie says after he came back, he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He lifts up his ball cap and points to a scar on his forehead. A memento of what's known as Bloody Sunday. That's the day in March 1965 when protesters were brutally beaten by police as they tried to cross Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Many people in the audience have first-hand connections with this history. Monique Williams was just a child then, but she remembers Annie Lee Cooper, who's played in the movie by Oprah Winfrey.

MONIQUE WILLIAMS: Annie Lee Cooper. I'm not quite sure how mamma found her, but she was our housekeeper for about six months. She was wonderful.

YEAGER: Cooper was a civil rights activist most known for whacking the county sheriff at the time across the jaw. Williams says she's sure Cooper will come off great in the movie but is a little uneasy about how white southerners will be depicted. Still, she's looking forward to it.

WILLIAMS: If you find me after the movie, I'll tell you what I think. I just feel like it's a wonderful thing for Selma. I do.

YEAGER: Because the thing is, it took a special effort to bring this film here. The town doesn't have a commercial movie theater. Selma Mayor George Evans says it only makes sense the movie should be shown here and looked for a way to do it. He spoke with the filmmakers and the owner of a theater a few towns away. They made it happen in the city-owned auditorium. Evans says, people at first couldn't believe the movie would be shown in Selma.

MAYOR GEORGE EVANS: When we said it's going to be for here and free, man, people just was overly elated over that.

YEAGER: Inside, the audience is in rapture. They cheer, they sigh and when the credits roll...

(APPLAUSE)

YEAGER: For Reverend F. D. Reese, it brought back a lot of memories. He was head of the Selma movement at the time.

REVEREND F. D. REESE: Well, I hope that people will understand the type of sacrifices that had to be made in order for us to enjoy the freedom that we now enjoy today.

YEAGER: This is Terri Sewell's third time seeing the film, but the first with the hometown crowd. She represents Selma in Congress, and is Alabama's first black congresswoman. She especially wanted to see the movie with her parents.

CONGRESSWOMAN TERRI SEWELL: Mommy was literally in tears when she saw the reenactment of Bloody Sunday. And, you know, as I comforted her, I said, isn't it great that we are in a different space today?

YEAGER: Monique Williams, the one who's housekeeper was activist Annie Lee Cooper, she agrees much progress has been made. But the film made her feel almost embarrassed. Teary-eyed, she explains, yes, she was a child, but oblivious to the injustice of segregation.

WILLIAMS: I wish I could talk to Annie Lee Cooper today and just say, Annie, I'm so proud of you. I mean, I think it sort of overwhelmed me as you can see (laughter).

YEAGER: Several moviegoers remark about the need to take voting rights more seriously today. Some lament that race relations in America are still frayed. One native, though, says the voting rights marches needed to happen somewhere. He's proud they happened in Selma. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager.

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