This photo released by Paramount Pictures shows, David Oyelowo, center, as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmen Ejogo, right, as Coretta Scott King in "Selma.” (Atsushi Nishijima/AP)

Just in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thousands of D.C. middle and high school students can go see the Oscar-nominated film “Selma” free starting Thursday, thanks to a fundraising effort led by the March on Washington Film Festival.

The free tickets are part of a nationwide movement meant to ensure that young people have the opportunity to see “Selma,” a historical drama about the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The national holiday commemorating King’s life is Monday.

The “Selma for Students” effort started in New York, where more than two dozen black business leaders raised money to ensure that 27,000 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades would be able to see the film at no cost. The tickets were taken almost immediately.

Now business leaders and nonprofit organizations in a dozen cities, including Philadelphia, Boston and New Orleans, are working together to underwrite students’ tickets to the movie.

In the District, the March on Washington Film Festival has raised more than $75,000 toward a $100,000 goal. D.C. Public Schools is developing lesson plans to guide classroom discussions about the film.

“There are always teachable moments happening outside the classroom,” DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson said in a statement. “Selma for Students is a timely opportunity to engage our students in deeper conversation and learning about the power of civic engagement and leadership.”

Robert Raben, who in 2013 founded the March on Washington Festival, said the goal of allowing DCPS students the chance to see Selma is twofold:

“It is really to connect young people to powerful stories of our past and inspire them to know that they have a civil right, they have something that they want to change and they have the power to do that.”

Raben said what is special about “Selma” is that it celebrates ordinary people.

“The director lifts up rank-and-file people in Selma: housekeepers, church ushers, laborers who have courage to speak up,” Raben said. “The point of the festival is to highlight lesser known stories to inspire young people. You don’t have to be iconic or a mythical figure to make a difference in your world.”

Starting Jan. 15, D.C. students in eighth through 12th grades can see the film free by showing school identification or a report card at one of the following theaters: AMC Loews Georgetown 14, AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center, Regal Bowie Stadium 14, Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14 or AMC Mazza Gallerie.

The opportunity is available until tickets run out.

The March on Washington Film Festival welcomes additional donations to help fund the effort. Details are available at

Hamil R. Harris contributed to this story.