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Lee Daniels, Hugh Jackman Teaming To Tackle MLK Assassination Conspiracy Theories In ‘Orders To Kill’

Lee Daniels, Hugh Jackman Teaming To Tackle MLK Assassination Conspiracy Theories In 'Orders To Kill'

This is interesting… So Lee Daniels apparently couldn’t get his original MLK project off the ground (titled Selma, which had David Oyelowo starring), and has switched gears, still staying on the MLK course, but this time teaming with Hugh Jackman (who was also attached to Selma), to take on Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in a new film that will reportedly explore an “unconventional view of King’s murder.

To be titled Orders To Kill, the film will tell an alternative version of the MLK shooting, according to the LA Times, with Daniels directing of course, and Jackman starring.

The film will tell the story of William Pepper (Jackman), a controversial attorney and activist who for decades has argued that convicted killer James Earl Ray, who recanted his confession and died arguing his innocence, didn’t shoot MLK. The picture will follow Pepper over the years as he wages a one-man campaign, interviewing witnesses and building support for his theory that other interests, including those from the U.S. government, were behind the 1968 Memphis killing. (In a nutshell, Pepper, who is still alive, argues that government interests wanted King dead because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.)

The film will be based on William Pepper’s book of the same name, which has already been adapted to screenplay format, and is apparently ready to be shot, with Millennium Films producing and finance the film, which is currently being shopped around to distributors in Hollywood.

Unlike Daniels’ Selma (which was reportedly held up because family and close friends of the King estate didn’t approve of the project, which would have highlighted some of King’s vices), this project is said to have the support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s son Dexter King, who himself believes Pepper’s story about who was really behind his father’s murder.


A 1999 wrongful-death lawsuit against a man and unknown co-conspirators filed by the Kings and argued by Pepper found in favor of the plaintiff. The trial will be the climactic section of the film, according to the person familiar with the project.

Since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination, his murder has been fodder for endless conspiracy theories that rival those of JFK’s assassination (which Oliver Stone tackled in his film 2 decades ago).

From King’s son Dexter meeting with James Earl Ray in prison in 1997, professing his belief in Ray’s innocence, to then Attorney General Janet Reno’s reopening an investigation into the assassination in 1998, to a jury awarding the King family a symbolic $100 in a wrongful death suit a year later – all have helped keep alternate theories of MLK’s death alive.

James Earl Ray maintained his innocence until he died in prison in 1998.

Lee Daniels has his hands full here. I won’t be surprised if certain forces ensure that this project is never fully realized (to add to the already existing conspiracy theories). 

But this could be a good one, depending on execution. Let’s see how things develop…

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@ BLUTOPAZ – Now, let me clarify what I mean by 'less artists going into the arts but more business minded people transferring into the arts.' You do, of course, need to have an arts background and/or strong interest. That's a given. I went to an Ivy League school so liberal arts was pretty much at the core. Those who majored in the arts while in college were still equipped to take jobs in the economics field since pretty much a little of every subject was a requirement. Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital were pretty much taking anyone with the Ivy or Tier 1 school stamp on the resume. As a saftey net upon graduation, my fellow classmate artists still took jobs in investment banking. I know people who were drama majors or government majors (like myself) who still were able to get a job on Wall Street. They stayed at those companies and made some bucks before making the transition. It wasn't just bonuses from work that insulated them. They all invested wisely including buying some shares in a hotel in Houston. (Everyone knows that Houston is a big convention hub so they made a substantial amount of money in two years with a small investment.) All of these efforts allowed these aspiring thespians to have a financial cushion in place, which is something most artists don't have. That's why I believe people should go make money in other lucrative fields and then come back to their first love of the arts. I say business minded folks are needed more because you approach things from a different perspective plus the contacts you acquire along the way in corporate America could prove to be beneficial. Your average 22 year old film grad doesn't have those resources, but has to depend on a callback or be at the mercy of a casting director. Now, things change when you have a financial cushion and can afford to put up some of the money for your own projects or call a former co-worker to make a donation or investment. If you don't believe me, this is how Dee Rees and Nekisa Cooper got it done. They were execs at Colgate-Palmolive, made a little money and some contacts before making the switch to entertainment and now, Pariah, was received well by the press. Yes, they had the arts education in place, but they were still smart in getting a job in another lucrative field, which later helped. (Brand managers can make any easy six figures so you can put a little a way for a rainy day.) The brand management skills they acquired only helped them when pitching the project and soliciting donations….By the way, my comment about the MBA was more of an illustration. LOL! I was trying to say working on Wall Street will reap the kind of money in 2-4 years to cover an MBA education or do what your heart desires like indie film producing.


@ BLUTOPAZ and @JUSTSAYING – FYI – I know plenty about these industries. I started off in entertainment marketing working at HBO and then moving into sports and made a switch to finance a few years ago. I currently serve as Vice President at a private equity firm. Yes, I work long hours, but I paid my dues already to the point where I have some flexibility now with my employer. I can still freelance. When I say freelance, I'm not talking about working weekly on side gigs. It's too much. I'm talking about taking on quarterly or annual projects like award shows and live specials. Awards season is the best time to network. I make sure to keep my calendar clear of extra activities outside of my main employer around February and early March so that I am available to work Oscar and BAFTA festivities. Those contacts I developed from the Oscars have helped me today and I'm proud to say that a film that I co-produced will be debuting on the festival circuit later this year and another is being aimed for Cannes 2013. To say it's impossible is wrong. It's up to you to decide what your priorities are. I don't do clubs and am not much of a partyer (over it) so cutting people out of my life momentarily who had no direct contribution to my success was easy. So yes, going into hermit mode aimed with a purpose will force you to keep your eyes on the prize. I did just that. I don't have children so sky is the limit. I have no responsibilities to tie me down.


I think too many of us fall for the 'it's just a white savior trope" trope. Pepper implicates some of the most powerful institutions in this country, inc. FBI, CIA, and the mafia. That is epic storytelling if done right. Yeah it's been done before but this is concerning our most treasured hero. And as Tambay included above, King's own son believes Ray was innocent based on Pepper's research. That resonates a lot with me personally, since we don't hear much from the King children about this topic. I have no idea the original direction Daniels was going with Oyelowo in the lead, but imo we should not automatically write off a possibly compelling story just because of the White lead.


I'm very surprised nobody commented on this one. I for one can't wait to see it…

Miles Ellison

Yet another film where an iconic black figure is merely background for the story of a white nobody. This is getting old.


Is this the MLK version of Oliver Stone's JFK? Brilliant. Not.


So the MLK movie can only be greenlit if the main character is a Caucasian lawyer? That's a true shame. The MLK character will probably get 2 minutes of screen time. SMH


Mississippi Burning, The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, this one – more of us our history through the white man's eye. Can't wait!


Oh, so the old switcheroo is in play: the Jackman-oriented can be produced because Hugh Jackman, white actor, has more play than Lee Daniels' project with featured a black actor.

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