NEW YORK, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Oprah Winfrey says she chose to act in, as well as produce, the film Selma because the real-life civil-rights activist she plays was a devoted fan of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Asked at a Dec. 14 press conference in New York why she decided to appear on-screen as the late Annie Lee Cooper in director Ava DuVernay's critically acclaimed drama about Martin Luther King Jr., Winfrey joked, "Because Ava made me do it."
Cooper was an African-American woman who earned fame when, at 55, she protested for the right to vote in Alabama. In 1965, she waited for hours to register and was turned away. After Sheriff Jim Clark insisted she leave the premises and prodded her in the neck with his billy club, she punched him in the jaw and was beaten to the ground, then arrested. A photo of the incident was widely published and became a symbol for the American civil-rights movement.
"Ava sent me an online piece regarding the real Annie Lee Cooper that was from a Selma newspaper, celebrating her 100th birthday in 2010 and, in that piece, it talked about her life and her memories of that time in Selma where she actually knocked out Sheriff Jim Clark," the media mogul recalled. "And, at the end of the piece, it said every day now she watched The Oprah Show at 4 o'clock with a tuna fish sandwich. ... And Ava said, 'It would really mean a lot to her that you, who she watches every day at 4 o'clock with a tuna fish sandwich, was portraying her.' And that was it. Because I [initially] said: 'No, no! Every film I've been in, I end up hitting somebody.' ... I said, 'I don't want to do another film where I am knocking somebody out.' But that really happened and it happened that there is a famous photograph of her being pinned down by the two deputy sheriffs, so I said 'yes' for Annie Lee Cooper and her tuna fish sandwich watching The Oprah Show every day, but, more importantly, for every other woman and man in my history who took that walk to the [voter] registrar's office and was turned down and then went back home and tried it another year and then went back and tried it another year. This was Annie Lee Cooper's fifth time and when you think about what it takes to keep getting up and saying, 'I will and I can' in the face of an entire society that says that 'you cannot and you will not,' I just wanted to take a few minutes in that walk and pay tribute to all of those people. That's why I said 'yes.'"