It has been a long journey for Paul Greengrass‘ “Memphis.” Originally greenlit by Universal and slated for a February 2012 release on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the movie was scuttled in the spring of 2011, as the studio grew nervous when the estate of the late civil rights leader became critical of the project, upset by portions of screenplay which touched upon MLK’s rumored infidelity, including one scene that had someone procuring a hotel room for one of his trysts. It wouldn’t be until November 2012 when foreign backers Wild Bunch came on board to finance the movie, and now with Abu Dhabi-based Veritas Films in the mix as well, it’s full steam ahead as the movie looks to be Greengrass’ next. And a leading man has been found.
Forest Whitaker is in talks to play MLK, joining the ranks of James Earl Jones, LeVar Burton, Jeffrey Wright and more who have played the iconic figure in a variety of projects. Written by Greengrass, the historical drama centers on the final days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in the springtime of 1968, when he was trying to help the city’s sanitation workers find common ground. This was an extremely tumultuous time for King: he was facing heat from the President over his opposition to the Vietnam War while fighting marginalization due to his insistence on focusing his efforts on the poor working class. Memphis was also the place he would give his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech just a day before he would be assassinated. The story will be juxtaposed by the FBI’s intense manhunt for King’s assassin by the same federal agents that followed King’s every step with wiretaps at the behest of J. Edgar Hoover.
There’s no word yet on when production might begin, but we’d guess probably not until next year, as both Greengrass and Whitaker will be busy this fall with respective Oscar campaigns for “Captain Phillips” and “The Butler” (Whitaker is also a producer on “Fruitvale Station” which could also be a player in the awards season). But the plan is shoot the movie in the same docu-drama style as “United 93,” and Scott Rudin is still on board to produce.
All told this is pretty exciting news, and a great part for Whitaker, whose choices can sometimes be a bit dodgy. We’re just glad this is up and running again, and that we won’t have to wait long after ‘Phillips’ for Greengrass’ next movie. [The Wrap]