Martin Luther King, Jr. A name well known around the globe. An American activist and a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. But surprisingly not represented with his own classic film in Hollywood yet. Gandhi had his Oscar winning movie in 1982, Lincoln had another classic film release as recently as 2012. A name which stands with these greats when it comes to those who fought for equal rights to all men and women, Martin Luther King, Jr. may well have a Hollywood movie in the works… or so we hope. Reports suggest that DreamWorks is giving wheels to their planned MLK biopic, which has the backing of the MLK family and also (probably, most importantly) rights to use his copyrighted speeches. The names that are being talked of are quite interesting indeed. Oliver Stone as the director, Jamie Foxx as MLK. Cool!
Now these may very well be early reports, or even rumours, and nothing may come out of it. But if something were to happen, it does sound like an exciting partnership to consider. Oliver Stone and Jamie Foxx have worked together previously too, way way back in 1999’s Any Given Sunday, a movie which still remains popular for Al Pacino’s explosive inspiring speech. Oliver Stone, the director of the much acclaimed Platoon, has worked on a string of biopics previously – Born on the Fourth of July was on an anti-war activist, The Doors was on the famous music band, Nixon was on the US president, W. was on President George Bush and then the awful Alexander too. True that the best of Oliver Stone’s works come from the years prior to 2000, but he still knows how to handle a biopic, which should be counted as a big asset when a biopic on someone like MLK has to be made, where the material to choose from is vast and at times controversial. I would like to discount the Oliver Stone of Savages and Alexander, and remember him for Wall Street and Platoon, and believe that the latter Oliver Stone is still rearing to have a crack at an amazing story which needs to be told.
On Jamie Foxx, there ain’t much which one needs to say. He has come a long way since the days of Any Given Sunday. He’s already been part of a biopic which soared his credentials and won him an Academy Award – the movie Ray where he depicted the popular pianist, Ray Charles. More recently, playing Django in Tarantino’s Django Unchained got him several plaudits. Jamie Foxx has the necessary strength and depth, be it in his personality, his voice, the intensity of his eyes, to play an icon like MLK. I can already picture him standing in front of a huge crowd, and beginning with ‘I have a dream’. The ingredients to get you the goosebumps are right there! Now where would they take the script on MLK is the big question. The man’s life may be too vast to cover in a single movie. As expertly done by Spielberg for Lincoln, a chapter of his story could be told. These are still early days, but if people like Stone and Foxx hope onboard soon enough, then one could start talking of possible release dates.
There are said to be quite a few scripts on MLK doing the rounds in Hollywood. One particularly has caught a lot of attention. It is Paul Greengrass’ script on the last few days of MLK. Now that is something quite specific and if tightly written, would turn out to be a story worth delivering on the big screen. Greengrass has written the story based on his own research, and it has been in fact objected to by MLK’s family. Which, accept it or not, grows your interest further. Greengrass is another director who has his fair share of non-fictionalized movies, United 93 and Green Zone. And there is the biopic Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks releasing this weekend in the USA. While Paul Greengrass may not yet have the credentials of Oliver Stone, maybe the success or failure of Captain Phillips could well decide how good he can handle a biopic film. The script has however seen a lot of roadblocks in the past, stalling numerous times, due to financing issues or Greengrass commencing work on some other project. Now with Captain Phillips completed, Greengrass may focus again on his MLK script and there could be things happening with this story too. Few months back, Forest Whitaker was attached with the project. Another excellent choice he would be, having delivered a phenomenal performance as the dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland and has again been praised for his role in this year’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler. But nothing stands confirmed yet. Pity!
We hope that one of these scripts gets into production mode soon. It is a man’s journey worth telling over again, on the big screen, bringing forth his ideas and his ideals, which the world needs to remember again. Be it Jamie Foxx or Forest Whitaker playing the role of Martin Luther King, Jr., either would do justice to this icon (though personally I would lean towards Foxx). Martin Luther King, Jr. day is celebrated in the USA usually in the third week of January each year. Could one of the upcoming ones coincide with a movie on the great man himself? 2015 or 2016, maybe. Now if only some studio executive thought the same, and got the ball rolling!
[UPDATE on January 18, 2014: Oliver Stone has dropped out of the project citing the following reason on Twitter, “Sad news. My MLK project involvement has ended. I did an extensive rewrite of the script, but the producers won’t go with it. The script dealt w/ issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being. I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth. I wish you could see the film I would’ve made. I fear if ‘they’ ever make it, it’ll be just another commemoration of the March on Washington. Martin, I grieve for you. You are still a great inspiration for your fellow Americans—but, thank God, not a saint.”]