Today in history, January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta, GA.
As far as we know, there are at least 5 film projects in the works based on either the life of MLK, or some significant period during his 39 years on this planet; most recently announced, and most likely to be made first, is the Paul Greengrass-directed MLK assassination pic, Memphis, which was once a sure-thing, but the studio backing it, Universal Pictures, later backed out of financing and distributing the film; word on the street was that pressure from the MLK estate to call off the project, because they were unhappy with the script, was one of the reasons.
The film, which was supposed to focus on the events leading up to King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, while he was trying to organize the city’s sanitation workers in spring of 1968, was to begin shooting in 2011, for an early 2012 release. Obviously, that didn’t happening.
In November of last year, our last update on the project, it was announced that the film was alive again, with French distribution company Wild Bunch getting behind it, and super producer Scott Rudin producing, after almost a year in hiatus, and it just might be up next for Greengrass.
Deadline said that they had read the script, and called it “Oscar caliber stuff.“
But chances are, if the script they were going to go with before is the same that they’ll go with this time around, it looks like it’ll be one of those biopics that is made without the approval of those protecting the image of the subject.
The other MLK projects in the works include, of course, Lee Daniels’ Selma (currently in limbo, and very likely dead, due to financing issues, as well as the very same reasons Greengrass’ project has stalled – the King estate being unhappy with the script); then there’s Oprah’s HBO miniseries (which you’d think would be a go, although no ETA yet); there’s also the Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks project that has the backing of King’s estate (likely will also push forward; after all, it’s Spielberg and Dreamworks, and it has the backing of the estate. It may just be a matter of when), and Wesley Snipes’ planned exploration of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to discredit MLK, and the fallout that followed, titled Code Name Zorro (he’s still in prison, right? So, I wouldn’t be looking for this one anytime soon).
In a related project, Malik Yoba is playing MLK opposite Angela Bassett, as Coretta Scott King in the Lifetime original movie project, Betty And Coretta. Although it’s not a film that’s centered on MLK specifically.
As noted, one of the reasons for the holdup in the production of those 2 rather high-profile MLK film projects – both which would (reportedly) emphasize MLK’s vices, and not just revel in hagiography – was Andrew Young’s objections – the civil rights activist, member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the 60s Civil Rights Movement, a supporter and good friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., who played a key role in the events in Birmingham, Alabama, was a strategist and negotiator that influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. And also, he was with MLK in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was assassinated in 1968.
Young reportedly objected to scripts which included scenes of marital infidelity during MLK’s final days, among other “vices.”
I haven’t heard much about what Spielberg’s or Oprah’s MLK projects contain in terms of content; given that both seem to be near-sure-things (especially the Spielberg project which has the backing of the King estate); I can only assume that both of those projects are, shall we say, more wholesome, family-friendly tellings of MLK’s life.
But, thus far, none of the projects mentioned above is in production, as far as I know, so, anything’s possible; let’s see which of these makes it first to the finish line.