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01/06/2015 10:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Modern-Day Message We Can All Take Away From 'Selma' (VIDEO)

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent crusaders on a 54-mile march from Selma, Ala., to the state capitol in Montgomery to draw attention to the equal voting rights campaign. It was a mighty journey, met with hatred and attacks ranging from police beatings to tear gas, but still they marched -- and the nation took notice, with President Lyndon B. Johnson signing into law the Voting Rights Act later that same year.

Today, half a century later, modern-day marches are making headlines and history of their own, including the protests in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting by a police officer. The cast of "Selma" has spoken out about the timeliness of the film given these tragedies and events -- star David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay address that here -- and they also insist on the importance of continuing the conversation about civil rights.

"This has happened a couple of times to me: People say, 'Why do we need another civil rights film?'" Oprah, the film's co-producer and one of its actresses, says in the above video. "I go, 'When have you seen one?'... There hasn't been one."

Her "Selma" colleagues agree. Not only is the history itself important, but DuVernay also believes that these past events contain powerful lessons that remain relevant today, in Ferguson and across the country. "Selma" doesn't open nationwide until January 9, but the film was screened in Ferguson prior to its release with this very clear intention in mind.

"We showed it to a group of just 50 activists there," DuVernay says. "It was really to serve the people on the ground. Just to really offer the tactics that were used historically."

But something monumental happened 10 minutes before the film was over.

"The Eric Garner 'indecision' came through," DuVernay says, referencing a grand jury's decision not to indict a New York City police officer in Garner's choking death.

As the grand jury decision was handed down, the Ferguson audience began to react. "It was... very emotional," DuVernay says. "It was an emotional moment for them, just trying to figure out how to move forward. How do we continue to make sure our voices are heard? How do we work for systemic change?"

She praises the activists that have been doing good work in the community, but adds that it's crucial to continue the work and the conversations long after the media spotlight fades. "One of the things that 'Selma' shows is the strategy, the long-tail action that goes into these protests," she explains. "They're not to be dismissed because they're not on TV anymore."

The brave men and women of 1965 knew this, Oprah says, and truly understood the power of remaining peaceful, despite the intensity of their emotions or outrage.

"King, C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, Andrew Young -- they understood from the beginning that you're more powerful with your hands up, non-resisting, than you are throwing a Molotov cocktail," Oprah says.

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
'Selma'
CONVERSATIONS