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

Categories: Film and TV

Another King-related movie has also been on the back burner for some time. Precious director Lee Daniels has been working on a film about the somewhat controversial allegations by attorney William Pepper, who argued for years that King's killer James Earl Ray was innocent. Additionally, HBO announced that it too would be throwing its hat in the King ring with a seven-part mini-series covering King's entire history.

But talking about making a movie and actually getting one done is a very different story and my question still stands: why has it taken this long?

In mulling this over in my head, other recent biopics popped into mind. Movies need drama and true drama is not about external battles; it needs to come from within the character. The audience wants to know the "true" hero. Just recently the (somewhat poor) biopic of Steve Jobs was released and my initial reaction was what a dick the guy was, or rather that's how the movie made him to seem. This was also the case with The Social Network's protagonist/antagonist Mark Zuckerberg. King George IV of The King's Speech had serious emotional issues and the HBO biopic about Liberace made the performer look like a horrible human being. The foibles of man is what good movies are made of.

But when that man is the great American hero Martin Luther King Jr., we might have a problem. King's legacy will forever be etched in our collective conscience and the sacrifices he made for the civil rights movement are paramount. But like any person, great or not, he was a human being and he surely made some mistakes. King's legacy is also swirling with allegations of adultery, which his family denies and wants kept out of any movie about his life. Understandably.

There were also government allegations associated with King's involvement with the Communist party and this looks even worse for the government than it does for King. Additionally, there are the allegations that the government was somehow involved in King's assassination and James Earl Ray played the part of a scapegoat. Despite this information being out in the public, it's not common knowledge and if highlighted in a Hollywood movie would certainly put a stain on the King lineage; imagine a JFK-style conspiracy movie about Martin Luther King Jr and the reaction it might garner? That is just what people need to get riled up. But is it worse to leave the truth out to protect King's family and perhaps the public's sentiment?

So, does the world need a MLK biopic or should Hollywood leave well enough alone? What do you think?

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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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