“They’re gonna be here in about 18 minutes, but you didn’t hear it from me.” That’s actress Lorraine Toussaint — Hollywood veteran and break out villain of the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black” — talking. On tonight’s red carpet, though, she’s part diva (those leather pants!), pinch-hitter and babysitter.
The stars? They’re late. Very very late.
It’s 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Newseum, and the Washington premiere of “Selma” has been in full swing for a few hours. The crowd of politicos and journos — Former senator and current Motion Picture Association of America chief executive Chris Dodd, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson — has already been corralled into the auditorium for the screening.
But the stars? They’re late. Very very late.
There’s a big snowstorm in Toronto. “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo were in Toronto. The duo, currently on a publicity blitz, were on their way to the airport when they got the good news. The film had been nominated for three Golden Globes — best film, best actor and best director (the first nod for an African American woman). Now they just had to make their way from Canada to New York to Washington to celebrate.
By 8:24 the real stars of the red carpet are the catering waiters, wielding trays of shrimp cocktails for the hungry photographers on the other side of the velvet rope. Soon a ripple of excitement passes down the line. Lorraine Toussaint, who plays civil rights activist Amelia Boynton in the film, is here. The studio called her down from New York at the last minute.
“Thank you guys for staying,” says Toussaint before she makes her way down the line.
When we ask Toussaint — whose credits go back to the early 80s — about the current state of diversity in Hollywood, she says, “We are just beginning to tell our stories.” Toussaint adds that until “those rooms” where deals are brokered and movies greenlit have seats for everyone, then certain narratives like Martin Luther King’s will “get sort of piecemealed — a drip here, a dribble there.”
“But that’s changing,” says Toussaint, “because Ava DuVernay has been nominated for a Golden Globe.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) arrives straight from the spending bill vote on the Hill, just as Toussaint finishes her last interview. Lewis, who suffered a concussion during the original march in 1965, tells a reporter that he’s seen the film twice already and got “very emotional” both times. “To see someone playing you on the big screen…” he says, trailing off. “The young John Lewis, Martin Luther King…” And with that, the man who plays the man appears.
Actor David Oyelowo, who plays King in “Selma,” and Lewis embrace in front of a blown up image of the movie’s poster. It’s just before 10 p.m. “We got stuck in Toronto,” Oyelowo explains to the congressman.
Timing is everything tonight.
“Considering what’s going on in the nation right now, I have to feel and believe there is divine timing to it,” says Oyelowo, who read the “Selma” script nearly seven years ago. “There are many times this film could have been made in the 50 years since these events took place, but I can’t think of a time in history where it feels more pertinent, more right for it to be done.”
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