The cast and crew of Selma — a film about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama — wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before the New York City premiere of their film on Sunday night to protest the death of Eric Garner. Golden Globe-nominated director Ava DuVernay stood on the steps of the New York Public Library in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” pose with cast members including star David Oyelowo.
The red carpet statement came one day after an estimated 25,000 people gathered in New York at the Millions March to protest the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, unarmed black men who were both killed by white police officers this year. In video footage of Garner’s death, he repeats “I can’t breathe” while in a chokehold.
At the premiere, Oyelowo drew comparisons between the Selma march and the current protests. “Thankfully, we’re seeing a lot of the same good sides of protests happening with these protests — i.e., that they are nonviolent, and that we are now seeing black and white and everything in between coming together against injustice,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think that the next step for us to be able to really articulate our demands. What is it we want out of this? In Selma, it was voting rights, and now it’s police reform.”
“The lesson of the movie is strategy,” added Oprah Winfrey, who both starred in and produced the film. “Strategic planning, rigorous discipline, peaceful protest, and knowing what you want.”
Selma actor Wendell Pierce, best known for his role on The Wire, took his protest a step further. He spent four hours at the Millions March on Saturday before walking the red carpet for the film in his “I Can’t Breathe” shirt. His Wire co-star Michael Kenneth Williams, who is currently promoting The Gambler, also donned the shirt on the red carpet.
Though the Selma actors are the first celebrities to wear the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts on the red carpet, several sports stars including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose have worn the shirts during warmups before NBA games.