Martin Luther King Biopics Crawling to the Big Screen

Martin Luther King is finally coming to big screen with three projects in works.

August 27, 2013, 1:12 PM
PHOTO: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is seen in Denver in this May 18, 1967 file photo; Samuel L. Jackson portrayed Martin Luther King in "Mountaintop" at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 21, 2011 in New York City.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is seen in Denver in this May 18, 1967, file photo; Samuel L. Jackson portrayed King in "Mountaintop" at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Dec. 21, 2011, in New York City.
Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images | Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

Aug. 27, 2013— -- intro: Hollywood has long tried to bring the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the big screen and now, 50 years after he marched on Washington, there are three biopics in the works.

Despite the magnitude of King's life -- or perhaps because of it -- Hollywood has yet to bring the story of the slain civil rights leader to the big screen, although there have been numerous portrayals on television since his 1968 assassination.

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The main hurdle, one Hollywood insider said, has been the King estate. King's family, which is developing its own project with Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks, and his close confidante Andrew Young have been vocal in their opposition to projects that take a warts-and-all approach to King's story.

While some studios have caved to the pressure in the past, the renewed interest in King with the March on Washington's upcoming 50th anniversary seems to be moving these projects forward despite opposition.

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The success of movies like "Lee Daniels' The Butler," in a breakout year for black films and filmmakers, should also propel the projects, the insider said.

"If all the African-American movies do really well, they will definitely move forward," the Hollywood insider said of the King projects. "I think it's a great thing culturally, though economically, I'm sure they each wish they were the only ones."

Click through to see what MLK biopics are ahead and the actors who have played the slain civil rights leader in the past.

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quicklist:title: Untitled DreamWorks Filmtext: DreamWorks acquired the rights to King's life from his estate in 2009. The project, which revolves around the civil rights leader's admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, has already gone through two incarnations. In a sign that things might be moving forward, Spielberg told The Times of India in March, "I wouldn't call it a biopic. it's more a story of King and the movement and also about how his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi helped to shape his moral core."media:

quicklist:title: 'Selma'text: "Selma," about MLK's 1965 landmark march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., appears to be further along with the hiring of writer-director Ava DuVernay. The first black woman to win best director at the Sundance Film Festival for her second feature, "Middle of Nowhere," DuVernay will reunite with her film's star, David Oyelowo ("The Butler" and "Lincoln"), who is set to play King. The project, which is produced by Pathe UK, Brad Pitt's Plan B and "Slumdog Millionaire" producer Christian Colson, is moving forward despite objections from Andrew Young about references to King's reported infidelity.

"They didn't even identify the woman who started that march, Amelia Boynton, who was beaten on the bridge and left for dead on Bloody Sunday," Young told Deadline Hollywood. They said, 'We have our script,' and I said, 'No, you don't.' They call it poetic license, but I told them it doesn't make sense to take poetic license when the real story is more powerful."

Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Robert De Niro and Cedric the Entertainer are reportedly lined up for the 20039729

quicklist:title: 'Memphis'text: Young also objected to "Memphis," which depicts King's final days, including marital infidelity, in a hotel in Memphis during the garbage worker's strike. Written by director Paul Greengrass, the film finds King depressed by the state of his marriage and the movement. It also focuses on the manhunt for his killer, James Earl Ray. Universal dropped the picture in 2011 for scheduling reasons, but the decision came after Young's objections.

Young told Deadline, "I thought it was fiction." As for the script's depiction of infidelity, Young said, "There is testimony in congressional hearings that a lot of that information was manufactured by the FBI and wasn't true. The FBI testified to that. I was saying simply, why make up a story when the true story is so great?"

Forest Whitaker is reported to be in talks to play 20039612

quicklist:title: 'The Mountaintop'text: MLK's last days were already the subject of the 2011 Broadway play "The Mountaintop," starring Samuel L. Jackson as King. In this fictional depiction of King's final night before his assassination, a sassy chambermaid played by Angela Bassett comes to King's hotel room, where he is exhausted after giving his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, and helps him confront his destiny and legacy to his 20040906

quicklist:title: 'The Rosa Parks Story'text: In 2002's television movie "The Rosa Parks Story," starring Angela Bassett as the iconic civil rights figure, the role of King was played by his actual son, Dexter Scott King, who perfectly captured the look and sound of his famous father while preaching from the 20039663

quicklist: title: 'Boycott'text: Picking up from Park's refusal to sit in the back of the bus, the 2001 HBO movie "Boycott" stars Jeffrey Wright as King as he leads the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, one of the first major battles of the civil rights 20039485

quicklist:title: 'Parting the Waters'text: In 2000, Angela Bassett's husband, Courtney B. Vance, played King in the TV miniseries "Parting the Water," based on Taylor Branch's Pulitzer-Prize winning 20039794

quicklist:title: 'Selma, Lord, Selma'text: Clifton Powell, who has appeared in several film and TV roles, including "Ray," "Norbit" and "Army Wives," took on the role of King in the 1999 Disney TV movie, "Selma, Lord, Selma."media: 20039885

quicklist:title: 'King'text: Paul Winfield was one of the first actors to bring King to the screen in the 1978 miniseries "King." Winfield's performance and likeness won over the audience and critics alike, earning him an Emmy nomination. He starred opposite Cicely Tyson as Coretta Scott 20039342

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