"Selma" scene filmed on bridge named for KKK leader

Filming on Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge offered director Ava DuVernay a way to anger the ghosts of racism

The director of the new movie celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights tells Bob Simon that filming it on a bridge still named for a KKK leader was poetic justice for past racism. Simon profiles "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, who also defends her film's controversial portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, on 60 Minutes Sunday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Standing in front of the Selma, Alabama, bridge that still bears the name of the Confederate general and KKK leader Edmund Pettus, DuVernay recalls her feelings shooting critical scenes on it. "I took great pleasure directing scenes on this bridge," she tells Simon with a smile. "I imagined [Pettus] turning over in his grave a little bit [and him] thinking 'where did it all go wrong? This was not supposed to happen,'" she says, of what a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan might have thought about a black woman directing a film about a black man so revered that the nation named a holiday for him.

DuVernay shot graphic scenes on the bridge of African Americans being beaten by police, just as they were during the historic "Bloody Sunday" march for voting rights in Selma in 1965.

Central to the civil rights story was the role played by President Lyndon Johnson, who was seen by many now and in the day as a champion of racial equality. Some critics took issue with the portrayal of Johnson in DuVernay's film, saying it showed him as more hindrance than help to King.

"History is to be interpreted through the lens of the people who are reading it and experiencing it on the page or at the time," DuVernay says. "And this is my interpretation." She acknowledges that Johnson, a Southern politician, turned out to eventually be a champion for civil rights. "But he didn't start that way. To try to push the idea that he was always 100 percent in the corner of the black man and woman in America is to not know your history," she says.

DuVernay's lens was formed partially through summertime visits to her father's family in Loundes County, Alabama, where the KKK held sway for decades. Simon accompanied her back to the area not far from Selma to see DuVernay's parents Darlene and Murray Maye, who remember the marches and recalled stories of locals threatened for supporting the movement. "You're housing and feeding civil rights workers...Someone comes and burns a cross on your lawn," says DuVernay. "You can't call the police because it was the police," she tells Simon.

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Bob Simon and Ava DuVernay
CBS News