Martin Luther King Jr. movie: The latest from the What the Heck Took So Friggin' Long department

Mlkmovie_lThe news broke today that Steven Spielberg is producing a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic. Which is awesome, clearly. His was a life marked by incredible accomplishment — Nobel Prize, the Civil Rights movement, a march-based fitness program — that was cut short by his assassination at age 39. There are lots of questions surrounding this project — who’ll star as King (I’m sure every Black actor of a certain age is tuning up his preacher voice), who’ll direct, when will we finally see it — but I’ve got just one: What the hell took so long?

I get that, apparently, the rights to King’s life have been tangled up in the family — King copyrighted all of his speeches; without which, a King film might’ve played like 30 Rock‘s Janis Joplin flick, Jackie Jormp-Jomp. But every year I’d see biopics like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The World’s Fastest Indian, and A Mighty Heart — all fine, but ultimately marginal films — come down the pike and wonder, "Why is this man, who changed the face of America, not getting the same treatment?"

I’m not going to say there’s an undercurrent of racism at play — I’m also not going to say there isn’t — but people haggling over who controls someone’s estate is one of the few problems that, nine times out of 10, can be solved by throwing money at it. And, perhaps, President Obama’s election proved to those people with money that the country is ready to see the biography of an inspirational black man writ large — unlike Ray and Malcolm X, which were budget epics (Spike Lee famously needed donations from people like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and Michael Jordan to finish X). And HBO’s stellar Boycott, in which Jeffrey Wright played King at the beginning of his revolutionary road, was still just a TV movie.

I can remember, as a kid in the late ’70s/early ’80s, being sat down by my parents to watch Like It Is every January, when the black-centric show would run King’s speeches to commemorate his birthday, before it was a national holiday. I didn’t know the history that lived behind those speeches, but I felt it. The lure, the pull, the sheer force of that man and those words was irresistible…it’s about time Hollywood has answered the call.

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  • Sina

    I have seen MLK Jr movies before. One came out in the 70’s. I remember watching it when they use to rerun it back in the 80’s

  • Jenni in CO

    If we’re voting on an actor for this project, I would go for Cuba Gooding Jr. He’s got the look, he’s the right age, and I bet he could hit this role out of the park!

  • starchild

    I’m black, I love Martin Luther King but a holy Martin movie would be really boring. Now if we got into the complexity of the man and the dynamics of the time, THAT would be interesting though some people would call for Spielburg’s head. Jeffrey Wright was absolutely amazing in “Boycott”. Wish he could play King again. He deserves a potential Oscar role.

  • Bob Saget

    What the hell is this comment supposed to mean “I’m not going to say there’s an undercurrent of racism at play — I’m also not going to say there isn’t”? Was that really necessary? You pointed out King’s estate is responsible for the holdup of a King biopic. So what’s with the quote? Racism has NOTHING to do with it. To imply in any way it did is just misleading. Shame on you.

  • MK

    I’d love to see Michael Clarke Duncan in the role. Maybe he’s too tall, but he’s a wonderful actor and I bet he could tear the heart out of the role.

  • MiamiMaria

    He should stick with Jeffrey Wright. He is amazing!

  • Sara

    The Wonder Years is STILL not out on DVD because of the music rights. Man, if you’re right, I wish somebody would just “throw some money at it”.

  • Gary Revel

    Great news of a long overdue addition to the Martin Luther King Jr. history. Those interested in this may also be interested in the film project about my investigation of MLK’s murder.
    “They Slew the Dreamer”, but the dream lives on.

    http://www.garyrevel.com/mlk

  • BlackVinnyMac

    I’m so happy about this news. Lord knows I want to be involved in some form or fashion because this story has to be told. I hope it’s not sugar-coated and people see the real human being. From his educational & church background, civil right movement, the way he cheated on his wife, the FBI harassment and etc.
    There was a TV movie in the late 70’s about MLK starring Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson as Ms. King.
    But the person I truly feel who should be cast for MLK is Ving Rhames. Yes, Ving Rhames! I totally think he can pull it off and he has a little bit of the facial look as well. Do you agree?

  • Brian Cumings

    Has anyone seen this family squabble? No wonder it has taken far too long to bring the good Dr. to the big screen. You can’t throw a little money at one, you have to toss barrels of it at several!

  • Aaron

    I been hoping for another MLK movie to be made. I believe the actor Chiwetel Ejiofor would make a great pick as MLK,Jr.

  • Teddy

    Teddy Wells plans to audition to portray Dr. King in the new MLK movie.
    http://teddywells-mlkmovie.blogspot.com/

  • tyshawn

    martin luther king was a great person to me alot i wish there was a movie about his life and how he died.People should expire his life a little bit more cause he saved blacks lives alot

  • Greg

    Good morning. I really feel
    that Will Smith would be a real
    great fit to star as the famous,
    wonderful title role of Dr.
    Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Have a good day.

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