Hollywood has been attempting to get a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. off the ground for years, with filmmakers such as Paul Greengrass to Oliver Stone attempting in vain to get an unflinching portrait of the civil rights leader made. While Greengrass still plans on getting to Memphis someday, MLK’s story will first be told on the small screen courtesy of HBO and The Wire creator David Simon. A six-hour miniseries adaptation of Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book trilogy America: In the King Years in currently in the works at the network, which would delve deeply into the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Hit the jump for more.
Having Oprah Winfrey in your corner certainly helps with whatever project you’re intending to market, whether it’s the next bestselling novel, or a long-gestating Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic. Today’s news focuses on the latter, as Winfrey has signed on to produce Selma for Paramount. Her involvement comes after taking a liking to the script rewrite turned in by writer-director Ana DuVernay last year. The project is being fast-tracked, so as soon as Paramount seals the deal on domestic distribution, production is expected to start right away. (Via Deadline)
When last we reported on the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic, writer-director Oliver Stone and star Jamie Foxx were in talks to join the production. Now, it looks as if Stone has departed the picture on the grounds of creative differences between his take on the civil rights leader and that of the project’s producers. Stone’s draft of the script would have dealt with some of the less glowing aspects of the activist’s life, including “issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being.” Stone exited the project after producers told him that King’s estate wouldn’t go for it. Hit the jump for more.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone has his sights set on tackling the life of another historical figure. The Alexander and W. filmmaker is in early talks to direct a biopic about the life of Martin Luther King Jr., with his Any Given Sunday star Jamie Foxx in talks to star. The project is set up at DreamWorks and is expected to have the support of King’s family, unlike director Paul Greengrass’ long-developing MLK film Memphis, which provides a three-dimensional warts-and-all look at Dr. King on his final days. Hit the jump for more on this new project, including how it might affect Greengrass’ film.
Writer-director Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere) has reportedly signed on to Selma, the film centering on the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery. The first Black woman to win Best Director at Sundance, DuVernay has been scouting filming locations and working on the script with Paul Webb since April of this year. DuVernay will reunite with Middle of Nowhere’s lead, David Oyelowo, who will play King in Selma. Hit the jump for more.
Great casting news to report tonight:
- Forest Whitaker is in talks to play Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, a biopic written and directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) that follows the civil rights icon over his final days in Memphis.
- Melissa Leo is in negotiations to join Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz in The Equalizer, a feature adaptation of the 1980s television series directed by Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen).
- Paul Thomas Anderson cast relative newcomer Katherine Waterston as the female lead in Inherent Vice. Joaquin Phoenix is set to star—Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short and possibly Sean Penn co-star.
More on each project after the break.
For some years now, director Lee Daniels (Precious) and actor Hugh Jackman (The Prestige) have dreamed of developing Selma, a passion project involving the civil rights struggle in America. It looks like the duo will get their chance with Orders to Kill, a film that takes a new look at the assassination of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The unconventional take on the historical tragedy centers on controversial lawyer and activist, William Pepper (Jackman), who has argued that convicted assassin James Earl Ray never shot MLK. Hit the jump for much more.
While many dueling Martin Luther King Jr. projects are in various stages of development at the moment, it looks like DreamWorks and Warner Bros. have decided to combine their competing projects and co-finance a MLK film together. DreamWorks acquired the rights to Martin Luther King Jr.’s story back in 2009, securing the cooperation of the King estate as well as the rights to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Warner Bros., on the other hand, had scribe Kario Salem (The Score) on board. Salem spent three years researching and doing interviews for his screenplay.
After Universal abruptly pulled out of financing director Paul Greengrass’ controversial film Memphis (covering the days leading up to MLK’s assassination) following pressure from the King estate, THR reports that DreamWorks and Warner Bros. decided to combine the strengths of their respective projects and create a film together, with Salem in negotiations to write the screenplay. Hit the jump for more.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. I know this, because it was my mother’s birthday, and she wondered which nation’s king had just died. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) is well aware of the date, because it serves as the climax of what looks to be his next film, Memphis.
Greengrass’ script is set in the middle of King’s visit to Memphis to support the strike of the black sanitation workers. King was shot on the balcony of his motel room, which incited riots in dozens of cities nationwide. No formal discussions have begun, but producer Scott Rudin (True Grit) is reportedly interested in setting up Memphis with Greengrass at Focus Features. Memphis is one of three MLK-related films currently in the works that we know about.
According to Risky Biz Blog, Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. biopic has finally taken a step forward by hiring playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood to pen the project. Harwood’s previous credits include The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Pianist. Since this is the first King biopic to be officially authorized by the King estate, he’ll have access to all of the copyrighted material from King’s life including speeches, books, and other works. Spielberg is attached to produce but not direct.
I have trouble being excited for this project because Snider, Spielberg, and Harwood are all white people. Biz notes that Harwood is a strong choice for the assignment due to his previous screenplays and, “at 75 years old, the South Africa-born writer lived through the late 1950′s and ’60′s, when King’s oratory and influence inspired a massive civil rights movement until his murder in 1968.” Really? That’s all it took? Accomplished screenwriter who was around during the 50s and 60s. Wow. I don’t want to diminish the universal effect Dr. King’s work had on our country, but this all feels slightly off to me. I’m sure some of you disagree so please sound off in our comments section.
I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be one of the few people in history who got his own national holiday before he got his own movie. There are plenty of MLK Jr. documentaries out there, but no one has dared to approach a biopic about the man due to his saintly status and his grand importance not just in civil rights history, but in American History. I honestly think it’s less controversial to make a film about Jesus.
But if anyone in Hollywood has the pull to make a King biopic happen, it’s Steven Spielberg. Please note, the Variety article reporting this story does not say that Spielberg will direct. I don’t know where he’d find the time in the first place, but this is one time where he should step back and let an African-American director take the helm. King’s story is too woven into the African-American experience to let a Jewish kid from Arizona tell the tale. Storytelling is important but heritage and culture have to be acknowledged and I wonder how chill Spielberg would be if say a Catholic director had attempted “Schindler’s List”. And I’m not saying that Spielberg even did a bad job with “The Color Purple” or “Amistad”. It’s just he should stay in the capacity of a producer on this one and let someone else direct. I’m not sure who it should be and whoever does get the job will almost certainly provoke controversy and intense scrutiny, but I feel it has to be a black director who personally understands King’s impact, if not in their own lifetime, then from their parents and grandparents and other relations.
Now I’ll step down off my soap box and wonder what black actor could possibly play King. I certainly have my favorites but there are questions of physical resemblance so even though Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor (despite Ejiofor being British and not American) jump to mind simply because I think they’re two of the best black actors working today, I don’t know if they can bear enough of a resemblance to King. Then again, I never in a million years would have pegged Jamie Foxx to play Ray Charles so it’s a good thing I don’t work in casting.
I’ll certainly be following this project closely and hopefully it will find its way to the screen faster than Spielberg’s constantly-delayed Abraham Lincoln biopic.