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Director Ava DuVernay's Selma has been hailed by many film critics - including myself - as one of the best movies of the year, and it is considered a heavy contender in this year's award season race. What you may not know, however, is that the movie actually spent a number of years stuck in Hollywood's famed development hell - and in that time, it underwent a large number of changes and saw a surprising number of famous faces in key roles come and go.
The story of Selma's long road to production was recently brought to light in an interview that DuVernay did with The Wrap, and during the conversation the filmmaker noted that there were some very talented people involved with the project long before she came aboard to helm - and not just in terms of the cast. For a long time, it was Lee Daniels who was going to make the movie - first attaching himself to the film back in 2009 - but he wound up making The Butler instead. There was also apparently talk at one point about Spike Lee potentially making the movie, but he ultimately moved on as well. It was David Oyewolo - who came on to the production during the Daniels years - who eventually recommended Ava DuVernay for the job, having previously worked with her on the 2012 feature Middle of Nowhere.
Obviously Oyewolo wound up being inherited casting from Selma's pre-DuVernay days, but there were a lot of other recognizable names and faces who were once attached to the film but didn't wind up being involved. In the interview with The Wrap, DuVernay specially noted Cedric The Entertainer as once being involved with the film, as well as Hugh Jackman. The former would have played Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s close associate Ralph Abernathy (eventually played by actor Colman Domingo), and the latter was attached to star as Selma's resident racist sheriff Jim Clark (a part that would go to actor Stan Houston). Looking back at our own archives, there was also a time when Liam Neeson was going to play President Lyndon Johnson, though it was ultimately Tom Wilkinson who actually performed the role.
Selma is a truly extraordinary film that is actually made rather important by the atmosphere in which it is being released, but one must wonder what the movie would have been like had it been made just a few years earlier. Would Lee Daniels' vision have matched up with Ava DuVernay's sporting a cast including Liam Neeson, Cedric The Entertainer and Hugh Jackman? Had Spike Lee stuck around, how would he have applied his personal visual style to the material? These are sadly questions that will never be answered outside of our own imaginations.