Students to see ‘Selma,’ for free

Herb Boyd | 1/15/2015, 3:46 p.m.
Like the historic march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, the movie “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo ...
Cast of "Selma." Photo by Lapacazo Sandoval

Like the historic march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, the movie “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., is part of an unprecedented campaign to make sure that young school children in the metropolitan area get a chance to see the film free of charge, thanks to a coalition of Black New York business leaders.

Paramount Pictures recently announced that it will partner with African-American business leaders in the city to offer free admission to see “Selma,” which was nominated in four Golden Globe categories and won for Best Original Song, composed by Common and John Legend. Almost immediately, 27 Black businesses answered the call and created a fund that will allow 27,000 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders to see the film at various theaters in the city.

Monday morning at City Cinema on 86th Street on the east side, hundreds of students filled the seats to see the film, said Carol Sutton Lewis, who was in attendance. “They were from the Eagle Academy, where David Banks is the president and CEO,” she said, “and they were so excited and eager to learn more about our history. The students came from all over the city, which was evident when the various boroughs were called out.”

Lewis, who, with her husband, Bill Lewis, a co-chairman of investment banking at Lazard, had seen the film earlier, said the idea of bringing the business leaders together came during a dinner she and her husband were having with Charles Phillips, a Viacom director. “We felt something should be done to give the film wider exposure, particularly to young students,” she explained. “And out of that meeting came the idea to contact other business leaders. The response has been amazing, and it’s such a delight to see that the students are beginning to develop their own movement out of an old movement.”

One of the ways the coalition is monitoring the turnout of students—and according to recent reports, other cities are creating their own initiatives—is through the hashtag #Selmastudents, through which students can submit their comments about the film. “We have received tweets from Common and John Legend,” Lewis added, “and they have promised to help us reach out to students.”

“Paramount is honored to partner with New York City’s deeply esteemed business men and women to give students in - New York the opportunity to experience Ava DuVernay’s beautiful and moving masterpiece,” said Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures.

Equally enthusiastic about the offer was Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the organization that litigated to obtain the right to march in Selma. “We are thankful for the generous support and leadership of the New York business community and Paramount Pictures in helping deliver ‘Selma’ and Dr. King’s message to our future leaders,” she said.

Among the prominent business leaders in the coalition are Valentino D. Carlotti, partner, Goldman Sachs Group; Bruce Gordon, chairman, ADT, and former CEO of the NAACP; Ken Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express; Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks; Ed Lewis, founder of Essence magazine; Richard Parsons, senior advisor, Providence Equity Partners; Jonelle Procope, president, Apollo Theater; Fred Terrell, vice chairman of investment banking, Credit Suisse; and Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO, Xerox.