In the movie “Selma,” which chronicles the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery protest marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., actor and hip hop artist Common plays the part of James Bevel, a prominent civil rights leader. “Selma” director Ava DuVernay had wanted Common specifically for this role — perhaps, he says, due to his personal experience.
“I’m a conscious person… I’m aware of who I am as a black man and the struggle that black people have been through in this country,” Common tells the web series #OWNSHOW in the above video. “I think that created a foundation for Ava to feel that I would be a great person to [play] James Bevel.”
Common doesn’t just appear in “Selma,” but also co-wrote the Golden Globe-nominated song “Glory” with John Legend for the historical film.
As a hip-hop star, Common has collaborated with many great talents and won both awards and acclaim throughout the music industry. But this particular project holds special meaning for the 42-year-old artist, mostly because of the influence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has had on his life. “He was one of the first people that I looked at as a hero,” he explains. “He was my first hero.”
The song “Glory” is a powerful and poignant anthem with lyrics like “Every day women and men become legends / Sins that go against our skin become blessings,” “That’s why Rosa sat on the bus / That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up,” and “No one can win the war individually / It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy.” Common’s inspiration for writing those lyrics comes down to one thing: offering people a voice.
“To learn more about [Dr. King] and the people of Selma and the people around the country that came and contributed — just everyday people — it just was like, ‘I’m writing this for those people,'” Common says. “That, connected to what happened in ’65 to what’s happening in 2014 to 2015… I wanted a voice for those people, too.”
More with Common: Common also explains why he views being black as a gift.
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