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.