PELHAM, N.Y. -- Trinidadian-born Brooklyn-raised actress Lorraine Toussaint remembers distinctly when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It was her birthday, April 4, 1968, and she was seven years old.
"A great man died today," she recalled her mother telling her.
And now, in an example of how life often comes full circle, she is paying homage to the famous civil rights leader with her part in the new film, "Selma," due out Christmas Day.
The movie focuses on the three 54-mile Selma to Montgomery, Ala., protest marches in 1965 led by King to draw attention to the denial of voting rights to black Americans. Toussaint plays Amelia Boynton Robinson, a part of the civil rights movement.
She spoke about her role -- and the raw emotions of filming -- at The Pelham Picture House Dec. 15 where a screening and post-film discussion were held. The event was co-sponsored by Alvin & Friends Restaurant in New Rochelle. Owner Alvin Clayton knows Toussiant from Trinidad, where he is also from.
Toussaint, who is known for her powerful roles, most recently as Yvonne "Vee" Parker in the Netflix drama, "Orange Is the New Black," said filming on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where some of bloodiest attacks took place, was "very intense," more so because some of the extras were survivors from that era and/or their descendants. Many brought photos to show the cast their aunt, uncle, mother, or father that were part of the original march.
"We gathered on that bridge before filming and said a prayer in honor of the lives lost there," she said.
The film has come out at a raw time amidst the Eric Garner and Michael Brown deaths and much of the discussion in the theater centered on the racial divide in the nation. "We are watching a repeat of history right now," said Toussaint.
"We could not have planned this," she said of the film's release date in the midst of heightened tensions.
When asked what she learned in the process of delving into her character and the other characters in the film, she replied: "How young they all were and how fearless." She also pointed out the role of women in the movement -- the "unsung heroes" -- that Director Ava DuVernay was determined to bring to the forefront.
As for what's going on in the world now? She said there still is a lot of healing that has to be done but with courage, strength, unity, bravery, and peacefulness, there is always hope.
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