Pop Rocks: Why Hasn't There Been an MLK Biopic Yet?

Categories: Film and TV

August 28 marks a historic event in civil rights, the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom led by civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. The march, which saw roughly 250,000 people come together in peaceful protest, featured the iconic "I Have Dream Speech" delivered by King.

This week begins a seven-day long commemoration in Washington that includes a host of activities and events, including two organized rallies: Action to Realize the Dream March and Rally "Jobs, Justice & Freedom" this Sunday and the March for Jobs and Justice on August 28. President Obama will take to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 to give his own speech during The Let Freedom Ring Commemoration And Call to Action Ceremony.

It is something to marvel that this historic event happened 50 years ago; so much has changed and so little, simultaneously. Additionally, it has been just over 45 years since King was murdered at the young age of 39.

As someone who sits around all day thinking about arts and culture, it occurred to me that of all of the famous people who have done extraordinary things for this country, King is one of the few that Hollywood has decided to ignore. We have biopics about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dorothy Dandridge, we even have a movie about Tina Turner; why has Martin Luther King Jr. been left off of the list?

In 1978, a three-part miniseries entitled King: The Martin Luther King Story came out focusing on the later part of his life, 1954 to his assassination in 1968. However, the miniseries contained a slew of incorrect facts and misrepresentations, such as a meeting between King and Malcolm X that supposedly took place a year after Malcolm X was assassinated. Other than documentaries, which even then there are only a few, King has not been the focus of his own big-budget film.

The most obvious possible reason for this deficiency is due to the King estate. It is known that King's family has not been friendly towards Hollywood over the years and the rights to King's story has been limited. About four years ago, it was announced that the King estate had given rights to Dreamworks with producer Steven Spielberg at the helm. According to reports, this has been something of a dream for Spielberg and why shouldn't it be? The producer/director is known to tackle some of the greatest figures and event in history. But the initial statement about this film came out four years ago and since then... nothing.

There have been bubblings of other MLK films as of late. Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum and United 93) has been working on a film called Memphis, which will be specifically about King's last days. Even more rumors have been swirling as to whether Forrest Whitaker will portray the legend. But Memphis has had a lot of issues getting off the ground. Apparently, the movie includes depictions of King's alleged infidelities, and this unfaithfulness is not something the King family wants to be in a movie.

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Maybe the reason has to do with not wanting to release in a motion picture about the 1999 civil case  where jurors concluded that members of the government were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate MLK.  I doubt the powers that be(and I'm not talking about the government entirely) want to have a film that stirs up as many conspiracy theorists like JFK did. 

MadMac topcommenter

I'd love to see a Reverend King movie but not a Dreamworks/Spielberg King movie. There are two books that deal--in great candor-- with Dr. King's declining popularity leading up to the assassination. Both focus on his broader initiative from core Civil Rights to a broader stance against poverty and war. I'd love to see the life that paved his path from Atlanta to Washington. The only directors I feel could film that story would be Carl Franklin or Spike Lee. Good article, Ms. Koenig.

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