In the movie "Selma," which chronicles the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery protest marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., actor and hip hop artist Common plays the part of James Bevel, a prominent civil rights leader. "Selma" director Ava DuVernay had wanted Common specifically for this role -- perhaps, he says, due to his personal experience.
"I'm a conscious person... I'm aware of who I am as a black man and the struggle that black people have been through in this country," Common tells the web series #OWNSHOW in the above video. "I think that created a foundation for Ava to feel that I would be a great person to [play] James Bevel."
Common doesn't just appear in "Selma," but also co-wrote the Golden Globe-nominated song "Glory" with John Legend for the historical film.
As a hip-hop star, Common has collaborated with many great talents and won both awards and acclaim throughout the music industry. But the 42-year-old artist says this particular project holds special meaning for him, citing the influence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has had on his life. "He was one of the first people that I looked at as a hero," he explains. "He was my first hero."
The song "Glory" is a powerful and poignant anthem with lyrics like "Every day women and men become legends / Sins that go against our skin become blessings," "That's why Rosa sat on the bus / That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up," and "No one can win the war individually / It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy." Common's inspiration for writing those lyrics comes down to one thing: offering people a voice.
"To learn more about [Dr. King] and the people of Selma and the people around the country that came and contributed -- just everyday people -- it just was like, 'I'm writing this for those people,'" Common says. "That, connected to what happened in '65 to what's happening in 2014 to 2015... I wanted a voice for those people, too."
More with Common: Common also explains why he views being black as a gift.