On February 8, 2015, the memories of black voting rights struggle led by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came alive as the Selma movie premiered in Lagos. The event was co-hosted by the The Rock Church, Lagos and the U.S. Mission in Nigeria.
In his remarks delivered before the screening of the movie, Ambassador James Entwistle (link to remarks) gave an incisive historical background of the events leading to the Selma struggle. He noted that, “when it became clear that, despite President Johnson’s instructions to his attorney general to draft the toughest voting rights possible, the U.S. Congress was reluctant to pass additional legislation so soon after the 1964 legislation, Dr. King responded. In March 1965, Dr. King undertook to lead a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery.”
In addition, the Ambassador noted that although the protesters were peaceful, many of the police and bystanders were violent and, as a direct result, Congress took up and passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the White House signing ceremony, Dr. King stated that “Voting is the foundation stone for political action.”
Ambassador Entwistle re-emphasized the precious nature of the right to vote, noting that all over the world, people have struggled, and in some cases died, to obtain the right to vote. He reminded participants that, when we have the right to vote but don’t use it, we disrespect and tarnish their memory. So, I urge all Nigerians who are eligible to vote to do so. Vote. It’s one of the most powerful weapons in the world. Vote.
In his welcome remarks, the Senior Pastor of the House on The Rock, Paul Adefarasin stated that, “in our bid to foster and promote non-violence, the Rock Foundation has partnered with the United States Mission to Nigeria to premier the movie Selma. Thus, as Nigeria embarks on this critical task of further enhancing its nascent democracy, we are using this movie, Selma, to speak to and embed in the consciousness of all Nigerians the benefits of employing non-violent methods to achieve a credible transition in a peaceful atmosphere devoid of fear-stoked actions. It is only by committing to non-violence that we believe Nigeria can reform, develop, and take her place as a leader in the comity of nations.
The key actor and actress in the movie, David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, also attended the event. David is an award-winning British-born Nigerian actor who acted as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. while Carmen is a British actress whose father is Nigerian and her mother is Scottish. She took on the role of Coretta Scott King. They interacted with the press on their experiences as Nigerians participating in the movie production.
Other dignitaries at the event included: Consul General Jeffrey Hawkins, Deputy Consul General/PAO Dehab Ghebreab and many diplomats from the U.S. Mission, Representatives of other Diplomatic Missions in Nigeria, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, to name a few.