Oprah Winfrey plays civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper in Ava DuVernay's "Selma." It's a small part for Winfrey after last year's "Lee Daniels' The Butler" -- she appears in a few scenes total -- but no less important. After an opening sequence that sets the time and place, Winfrey's Cooper is the first face audiences see as her attempts to register to vote are thwarted by an unfair, unjust and racist system. It's a powerful scene and Winfrey plays it with few theatrics -- the grief, anger and sadness Cooper is feeling at that moment all bubbling just under the surface.
According to "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, Winfrey shot her first scene in the film on the day Maya Angelou died, May 28, 2014. "I said, 'Let's reschedule,'" DuVernay said in a profile for New York Magazine. "She said, 'No, I'm going to do this for her.'"
Following Angelou's death, Winfrey released a statement about the impact Angelou had on her life.
I've been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister and friend since my 20s. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. "When you learn, teach. When you get, give" is one of my best lessons from her.
She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.
"Selma" is out in limited release on Christmas Day. Head to Vulture to read the full interview with DuVernay.