Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Glenn Whipp glenn. whipp@ latimes. com

Strik­ing while iron’s hot

Six months be­fore he f loored au­di­ences with his por­trait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” David Oyelowo had another movie pre­miere at the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val. “Nightin­gale” is a one- man film about an Army vet­eran bat­tling the voices in his head.

HBO picked it up af­ter Plan B, the pro­duc­tion com­pany run by Brad Pitt, Dede Gard­ner and Jeremy Kleiner that co- fi­nanced “Selma,” signed on as a part­ner.

What were your ex­pec­ta­tions for “Nightin­gale” af­ter it pre­miered last year at the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val?

At best, an in­ter­est­ing dis­trib­u­tor picks it up, it plays for a cou­ple of weeks, max, in New York and L. A. and ends up stream­ing some­where. And ev­ery now and then, some­body stum­bles upon it and gets some­thing from it.

The sub­ject mat­ter is pretty au­da­cious.

Movies don’t get made about those guys. And cer­tainly not me play­ing those guys. That’s why I jumped on it. It was not writ­ten for an African Amer­i­can char­ac­ter. It feeds into my big­ger mis­sion, which is to show the world as it ac­tu­ally is as op­posed to how it’s per­ceived to be in cin­ema and on the news. It was an artis­tic en­deavor, yes, but it was also about the power of the im­age.

I heard a story about your son ask­ing if you were “play­ing the main char­ac­ter’s friend” in your up­com­ing movie about a Ugan­dan chess prodigy.

That was a pow­er­ful ques­tion. It’s an in­dict­ment on what he sees day in and day out in movies. He’s an avid movie watcher, and even with me hav­ing just played Martin Luther King in “Selma,” he still felt the need to ask that ques­tion.

Im­ages mat­ter. And he’s not see­ing them.

And im­ages are po­lit­i­cal. So for a time, I have an op­por­tu­nity to be part of shift­ing some of those paradigms. That ques­tion from my son was a big eye- opener for me about how nec­es­sary it is, not only for my chil­dren but just so­ci­ety in gen­eral. My am­bi­tion is to see sto­ries that oth­er­wise wouldn’t be told and char­ac­ters that are of­ten seen as pe­riph­eral in main­stream Hol­ly­wood take cen­ter stage. And that, for me, is pri­mar­ily black peo­ple.

Lee Daniels, whom you worked with on “The But­ler” and “The Paper­boy,” is mak­ing it work with “Em­pire.”

The suc­cess of “Em­pire” is in­dica­tive of a lie that has been told for years, that no­body would watch a black fam­ily on a main­stream net­work show. It’s the same pre­con­cep­tions we bat­tled with “The But­ler,” when they told us the movie wouldn’t travel. That film ended up mak­ing nearly $ 200 mil­lion world­wide. These are lies up­held by peo­ple who want to per­pet­u­ate a cer­tain mythol­ogy be­cause it serves their own agenda, which is them want­ing to see them­selves in movies.

The push­back against “Selma” was re­mark­able in that re­gard.

That started when [ di­rec­tor Ava DuVer­nay] came along and re­shaped “Selma” in a way where ev­ery­one goes, “Oh, gosh, is this how you’re go­ing to tell the story? You’re go­ing to boost all the fe­male roles in it?” Yes. That’s what we’re go­ing to do be­cause those women were there. That’s why we need more women film­mak­ers too.

Do you think progress is be­ing made then for bet­ter racial and gen­der in­clu­sion?

His­tor­i­cally what has hap­pened is that you have a mo­ment and then ev­ery­one feels like, “Oh, it’s chang­ing,” and then ev­ery­one re­laxes. And the one thing I refuse to do is re­lax and as­sume that we’re in the mid­dle of a crit­i­cal mass that is now go­ing to self- per­pet­u­ate.

Like when Kathryn Bigelow won the Os­car for di­rect­ing “The Hurt Locker” and peo­ple thought it would be a gi­ant leap for fe­male film­mak­ers ...

I spoke to a pro­ducer the other day, say­ing she had to deal with other pro­duc­ers com­plain­ing that a cer­tain fe­male di­rec­tor was a bit emo­tional and how are we go­ing to deal with that? ( A) She’s a hu­man be­ing. ( B) She’s a sto­ry­teller and, ar­guably, you want to have emo­tion in your story. It’s the same thing with a black di­rec­tor. “Oh, gosh, they’re in­tense. They can be a bit an­gry or mil­i­tant.” It’s all born out of fear — fear of a loss of po­si­tion, fear of the world chang­ing too fast.

Pho­tog r aphs, cl ock­wise f rom top l ef t , by Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times; Randy Holmes ABC; Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times; Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

DAVID OYELOWO says, “One thing I refuse to do is re­lax.” It’s his turn, on a chess set at the Lon­don West Hol­ly­wood.

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