Selma and Criterion Collection Lower Pay Walls in Support of Black Voices

From Paramount Pictures to the Criterion Collection’s streaming service, content providers are lowering paywalls to access of films from black voices.

Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo and Oprah on Selma Set
Photo: Paramount Pictures

More than 50 years since black protestors first attempted to walk with protestors across a bridge in Selma—a bridge where they were met with violence and bloodshed at the hands of local authorities—it appears much and little has changed in American life. Millions make that connection each day as we head into the second weekend of protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Maybe that’s why some are eager to revisit the history of this American experience.

Hence Paramount Pictures announced Friday it is making Ava DuVernay’s Selma available for free across all major content platforms. This means you can watch the movie on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, or streamer of your choice.

“We hope this small gesture will encourage people throughout the country to examine our nation’s history and reflect on the ways that racial injustice has infected our society,” Paramount said in a statement. “The key message of Selma is the importance of equality, dignity and justice for all people.  Clearly, that message is as vital today as it was in 1965.”

The movie is a searing biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fateful demonstrations in Selma, Alabama and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The picture was a major tour de force for DuVernay who quickly became an A-list director and afterward made the equally illuminating documentary 13th about the historic systemic abuse of the prison system to oppress black communities in the U.S. That film is also available on Netflix. Yet even despite DuVernay’s respect for Selma, her film was nominated for Best Picture by the Oscars while being simultaneously snubbed out of a Best Director nomination. Even David Oyelowo’s remarkable turn as King went overlooked by the Academy in the Best Actor category.

Ad – content continues below

Painfully, Oyelowo recently told Screen Daily that he was heard the reason Selma was snubbed by the Academy was due to cast members wearing “I Can’t Breath” shirts to the Selma premiere—in reference to the all-too-familiar tragedy of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by the New York Police Department.

The move to make Selma readily available follows in the footsteps of the Criterion Collection, which announced yesterday that many works from African American filmmakers are now available for free on the Criterion Channel.

“We are also using our streaming platform, the Criterion Channel, to highlight films that focus on Black Lives, including works by early pioneers of African American Cinema such as Oscar Micheaux; classics by Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, and Charles Burnett; contemporary work by Khalik Allah and Leilah Weinraub; and documentary portraits of black experience by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke. We’ve taken down the paywall on as many of these titles as we can, so even if you aren’t a subscriber you can watch them for free.”

They’re small gestures, but their coinciding this weekend hopefully signal a growing accumulation that can build toward a more equitable—and visible—world.