Common Q&A: ‘Selma’
"I didn't anticipate getting the [awards] attention for the song initially because my intention for the song was to create something that really captured the spirit of the civil rights movement and brought it to present day," says actor and musician Common, who co-stars in "Selma" as civil rights leader James Bevel and earned Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award nominations for co-writing the song "Glory" with John Legend.
"We had a five-minute conversation about 'Selma' and what type of song we wanted to create and the spirit of what the song would be," he added about collaborating with Legend, "and I knew John from there could take that and create something that would be in the direction. When I heard what he played, I was overjoyed."
They wrote the song in October, months after the film was shot, and after the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, gave the film a tragic modern resonance. "'Selma' is creating its own history in a way," Common says. "It's a continuation of what Dr. King and the people who marched from Selma to Montgomery, the people who stood up for human rights – 'Selma' is an extension of that now, because that story being told is actually inspiring people … Everything is in divine time and divine order."
"I really learned by being a participant in 'Selma' that I have to do more," he adds. In addition to the widespread online and social media response to the recent racially charged events, "we also have to be out there and be active. Our bodies need to be present."
"Selma" opens in limited release on Christmas Day and goes wide on January 9, but citizens are already engaged in protests across the country. And Common believes part of the way "Selma" can further inspire viewers to be active is by humanizing Martin Luther King Jr.: "Instead of having our heroes be so far away from us that they're stars we can't even reach for," he says, "let's know that these stars are people that we can connect with, and we can rise to be those stars."