[movie id="415966"]"Precious"[/movie] director Lee Daniels revealed in an exclusive interview with MTV News that casting is firming up for his next film, "Selma." Liam Neeson and Cedric the Entertainer are both on board in key roles, with the former playing President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the latter playing American civil rights movement leader and Martin Luther King Jr. associate Ralph Abernathy.
"Selma" is set against the backdrop of the civil rights disputes that raged during the 1960s. It is specifically focused on one moment in time in the middle of the decade. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ostensibly made segregation illegal, local governments in less forward-thinking parts of the country still built barriers designed to defeat black citizens who wished to exercise their constitutional rights.
This week marks the 45th anniversary of one historic act of protest during that time -- on March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led a mass gathering of civil rights protesters to the doorstep of Alabama's State Capitol Building in Montgomery. It was the end of a five-day, four-night march that started in Selma, Alabama, an act of public protest that ultimately became an important component in the passage of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory practices that had been used to prevent African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.
Daniels' story in "Selma" will encompass the march and the events leading up to it. His key players are Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo was cast in the role last week), President Johnson, Sheriff Jim Clark (Hugh Jackman), future Sheriff Wilson Baker (elected in '66), Andrew Young (Lenny Kravitz) and Ralph Abernathy.
"Liam Neeson's playing Johnson," Daniels told us. "Wallace is not [cast], but [an offer is] out. We're waiting for a deal to close."
One bit of casting that Daniels is particularly pleased with is the Abernathy role. "We have Cedric the Entertainer, who is going to be [Ralph] Abernathy. He is a really good choice, so we're excited about that."
Stay tuned to MTV News for more from Daniels on "Selma," why the story is important to him, what he remembers of it and how the coming film will treat its subjects.
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