With most of us having the day off today in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my thoughts turned to the future of a MLK biopic. There have been plenty of MLK appearances, some bit roles, in historical dramas and TV series, but there has never been an honest to goodness full-fledged Hollywood production based on MLK's life.
One reason that MLK films are scarce is that King copyrighted his speeches, books and other works, meaning that any use requires sign-off from his estate. It's hard to do an affecting MLK movie without the "I Have A Dream" speech obviously.
Mr. King, who was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis at the age of 39, would have been 84 years old this past week.
There was a mini-series in 1978 starring Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson as King and his wife Coretta Scott King.
This year will see the release of The Butler starring Forest Whitaker as a White House butler who served eight American Presidents, but MLK is just one character in a film filled with John Cusack as Nixon, Robin Williams as Eisenhower, and Alan Rickman as Reagan. Nelsan Ellis from True Blood plays MLK in this one.
In April 2011 DreamWorks and Warner Bros. announced they were consolidating their competing MLK flicks and venturing forward, but word has been slow going since then. This one even had the blessing of the King estate, oddly enough.
At one point Steven Spielberg was set to produce, but his name has since disappeared from the industry chatter. According to IMDbPro, it doesn't even have a script or director as of yet.
But there is good news for director Greengrass' Memphis, set during the final days of MLK's life. It's now in the process of securing financing, which is always a decent sign, if not the sign of being a sure thing.
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Having producer Scott Rudin on board bodes well, and Greengrass has at least proven himself with two Bourne movies and United 93.
Selma, centered more on the civil rights movement as a whole rather than just MLK, has Brad Pitt in it's team of producers, but alas, nothing has been doing on this one since last summer.
It looks like there won't be a theatrical MLK movie in time for next year's MLK Day, but one could be at least in some level of production by then if the stars align.
Interestingly enough, a digital MLK was to be in a version of Forrest Gump, but director Robert Zemeckis decided to leave that scene on the cutting room floor.