Why Hasn’t There Been an MLK Biopic?

As we spend this holiday Monday honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it occurs to me that there hasn’t yet been a big Hollywood biopic about the man. Why is that? And, if one were produced, who should star?

According to this Entertainment Weekly article from 2009, Steven Spielberg last acquired the film rights to the story. Prior to that, the biggest stumbling block to producing a movie was that King copyrighted all of his speeches, and you can’t make a very good movie about the man’s life without those. Even though Spielberg may have finally straightened all that out, it doesn’t appear that he’s made much progress in the meantime. IMDb currently lists the ‘Untitled Martin Luther King Jr. Project‘ as being “In Development,” which could mean anything from “Imminently about to start filming” to “They’re thinking about it, but it’ll probably never happen.”

Assuming that such a movie does eventually get made, who should be cast? I see that, back in 2001, Jeffrey Wright played King in a TV movie called ‘Boycott’ about the early days of the Civil Rights movement. Although he’s a little older now than King was when he died (which would make it difficult for him to play the man in his younger days), I still think he’d probably be the best fit. Terrence Howard also seems like a viable option.

Please, let’s just keep Cuba Gooding, Jr. away from this project. Can we all agree on that?

13 comments

  1. OK went the high road now going low road. cause its not “sexy enough”. then they go through the numbers of Malcolm x. then it has to be really good and really accurate. then it has to go through casting. do we go star or unknown?. then it has to be spike lee approved.so we will see one sometime in never.

  2. Cyg

    There was the 6 hour biopic in 1978 starring Paul Winfield. Made for TV miniseries, but still, well done and comprehensive.

  3. Ian Whitcombe

    Any director who’d be interested in making a King bio-pic has probably seen for themselves all the various documentaries and filmed bio-pics. They may not have the impetus to come up with a fresh approach.

    Also, while bio-pics are not as expensive to produce as an action blockbuster, they do tend to have hefty mid-range budgets the kind that only someone like Scott Rudin seems comfortable in bestowing. I believe this is the reason why Spike Lee wanted to do a Sammie Davis Jr. or Charlie Parker bio-pic (can’t remember who) but couldn’t secure funding.

  4. I’d prefer Cuba Gooding Jr. to Terrence Howard, Josh. Gooding Jr. was at least talented ONCE.

    Also, MLK was one of the greatest orators of all time… Terrence Howard’s voice is a nasally, mumbly, lispy mess.

    That said I can’t think of any better options than the aging Jeffrey Wright.

  5. nate boss

    well, sadly, Tilda Swinton is out. damn gender and race discrimin..

    just joshin’.

    glad there’s the no Cuba Gooding Jr. rule. he’s HORRENDOUS these days.

    black actors who are talented like Denzel (Malcolm X), but younger? tough proposition, and in my eyes, rappers are out, for obvious reasons.

    Idris Elba impresses me, but i doubt he’d be a good fit.

  6. cardpetree

    Ludacris seems to being doing quite a bit of work these days. Maybe he’d be willing. Btw, it’s Martin Luther the King!!

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