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.