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"Selma" director Ava DuVernay defends LBJ depiction in film

Ava DuVernay, joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss the debate over the film's historical accuracy
"Selma" director Ava DuVernay on debate over movie's historical accuracy 05:51

While critics have hailed "Selma" as inspirational, riveting and relevant, the acclaimed film is also raising questions about its historical accuracy.

Some have accused the film, which follows the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle leading up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, of distorting the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson and depicting him as an antagonist.

Director Ava DuVernay defended the movie's portrayal of LBJ, saying he was a hero who was applauded in the film.

"What I try to do is show the full arc of their relationship. Neither man was a saint. Neither man was all sinner. There were gray areas to their relationship," DuVernay said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

"They had one of the most productive relationships in history, but it was sometimes a rocky road to get there," DuVernay said. "It happened. It was a triumphant time for our country but we tried to show the complexity and the humanity within their relationship."

DuVernay said at times, King and Johnson were a "yin and yang, pushing one another and challenging one another."

Some supporters have even said the Selma campaigns were LBJ's idea, but DuVernay said she disagrees.

"According to Diane Nash, John Lewis, Andrew Young and the people on the ground who were there -- the citizens of Selma -- that's not their truth, but history is for each of us to interpret for ourselves, so anyone's opinion is valid, truly it is," DuVernay said. "This is my opinion, this is the way is I see it, the way that my collaborators see it."

DuVernay is making history herself with "Selma" as the first black woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director. She admitted she isn't a "historical drama buff," however.

"On a Friday night it's not my first order of business to go see the historical drama," she said.

She tried to deconstruct what it was about the genre that didn't appeal to her.

"It's the distance, the patina, the sheen of respectability on top of everything. I wanted to get underneath and humanize everyone," DuVernay said.

Oprah and David Oyelowo on new civil rights film "Selma" 13:28

DuVernay was brought on to the project by actor David Oyelowo, who plays King.

"David had been cast as Dr. King by the previous director. When that director, Lee Daniels, stepped away from the project, David found himself an actor without a film so he began to construct the film, began to lobby for the producers to bring me on board. He recruited Oprah Winfrey to come aboard as a producer," DuVernay said. "Really rare instance of an actor taking control of his own destiny and a project."

Oyelowo's performance as King not only led to his nomination for Best Actor in the Golden Globes, but also received praise from King's children, who said Oyelowo captured the essence of their father.

"And his wife said that she felt like she was having an affair with Dr. King which is also interesting," DuVernay said.

While DuVernay couldn't use King's speeches verbatim, she had to "create the spirit" of King and of the civil rights movement.

"We had 120 minutes to 13 years of a movement, this three-month campaign that encapsulated that movement in so many ways. So it was all about capturing the spirit of it," DuVernay said.

Their movie had a "humble" budget of $20 million, "a few more bucks," according to DuVernay, than her last movie budget of $200,000.

The jump to $20 million didn't seem that big to her because a period film requires a different level of commitment in terms of the budget, she said.

"Every single garment has to be made to of the time," DuVernay said. "You have to recreate streets to be 1965 so the money went quickly and after a while it started to feel like an independent film in a lot of ways."

For reference, "Selma's" budget was a little less than half of "The Interview's" -- $44 million.

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