"Selma," a powerful new film about civil rights icon Martin Luther King, triumphed at its premiere in Los Angeles this week -- while critics are predicting awards season glory.
Co-starring Oprah Winfrey and rising British star David Oyelowo, the film received a standing ovation in Hollywood as industry journal Variety forecast "considerable box-office and awards-season gold."
The film, due for limited release on December 25 to qualify for the Oscars, focuses on a short period after the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, the law that abolished segregation in the US South.
But African Americans still faced bullying tactics to prevent them registering to vote.
The movie opens with a racist bomb attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four black schoolgirls, but rapidly turns to Selma, another town in the southern US state known as the cradle of the civil rights struggle.
Former talk show queen Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper, a modest and dignified nurse trying to register to vote but being blocked and humiliated by a small town official.
King -- who had already won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 -- heads to Selma to lead demonstrations and a celebrated march on the Alabama capital, Montgomery.
- Followed by secret services -
The violent clampdown on so-called Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, sparked a national scandal and triggered a movement that forced president Lyndon Johnson to proclaim the Voting Rights Act later that year.
Co-produced by Pathe, Winfrey and Brad Pitt's Plan B production company, the film has Oyelowo -- currently starring in "Interstellar" and soon to be in "A Most Violent Year" -- playing King as determined and charismatic, yet human.
It depicts the US Secret Service's attempts to trip him up by bugging his conversations, shadowing him and trying to get at him through his wife, Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo.
Coretta was in fact harassed by the FBI with anonymous racist threats and also with recordings of her pastor husband allegedly frolicking with other women.
King's doubts, struggles and disagreements with other civil rights leaders, including Malcolm X and student activists in Selma, are also portrayed in detail.
"David (Oyelowo) is the reason I came on board" the movie, said Winfrey at the American Film Institute festival in Los Angeles, which wound up Thursday.
She said they had become "fast friends" on the set of "The Butler," last year's film by director Lee Daniels which was widely tipped for Oscar glory but in the end failed to earn any nominations.
Oyelowo, of Nigerian origin, said he dreamed in 2007 that he would one day play Martin Luther King.
Director Ava DuVernay stressed that the film shoot, which mostly took place in Selma itself, resonated strongly with local people.
"Everybody knew Annie Lee Cooper there," she said.
She said at times she had to make dozens of white people feign hatred for blacks to recreate actual events of the 1960s.
She told them "that this is part of something important, so they had to give us that hatred, that rage," she said.
US rapper Common said that seeking inspiration for the soundtrack, "I just had to turn on the TV and see what was happening in Ferguson," the Missouri town torn by racial unrest in the last few months.