Selma Director on LBJ Controversy: ” I Wasn’t Interested in Making a White Savior Movie”

“Selma” director Ava DuVernay has stirred a fair amount of controversy based on her depiction of the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Ava DuVernayformer president Lyndon B. Johnson.

Specifically, Johnson Administration domestic affairs chief Joseph A. Califano, Jr.“falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

“In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea,” Califano wrote in the Washington Post. “He considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, [and] he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted.”

During an interview with Rolling Stone, DuVernay explained her portrayal of Johnson:

“Every filmmaker imbues a movie with their own point of view. The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. You have to bring in some context for what it was like to live in the racial terrorism that was going on in the deep south at that time. The four little girls have to be there, and then you have to bring in the women. So I started adding women.

This is a dramatization of the events. But what’s important for me as a student of this time in history is to not deify what the president did. Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we’re talking about a reluctant hero. He was cajoled and pushed, he was protective of a legacy — he was not doing things out of the goodness of his heart. Does it make it any worse or any better? I don’t think so. History is history and he did do it eventually. But there was some process to it that was important to show.”

Most political leaders are in fact reluctant to make unpopular decisions and only move when pushed by the people. It seem that DuVernay is making that point in the film.