Oliver Stone has run smack into the same wall on a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr biopic that director Paul Greengrass hit when Universal kicked his MLK project Memphis to the curb two years back. Stone took to his Twitter account today to say that DreamWorks and Warner Bros rejected his script rewrite and that he was done with the movie that also had Jamie Foxx attached. It came down to the studios — which are in lockstep with the MLK estate that brought them the right to use his famous copyrighted speeches — rejecting Stone’s characterization of long-running rumors that King Jr. engaged in extramarital affairs. “I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth,” Stone tweeted. He also added a message directly to MLK: ‘I wish you could see the film I would’ve made. I fear if ‘they’ ever make it, it’ll be just another commemoration of the March on Washington.”
This is almost a carbon copy of what happened two years ago with Memphis, the superb script that Captain Phillips helmer Greengrass wrote and set at Universal with producer Scott Rudin. The project stopped in its tracks after a version of the script found its way to the King family, and Ambassador Andrew Young, who was one of Dr. King’s closest confidants during the turbulent Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. While Universal was never really clear on why it halted the movie, blaming scheduling, it is clear that a film disowned by MLK’s family might hurt its audience appeal. This is an incredibly difficult and emotional situation because it depicts flaws in a man whose message of tolerance and equality and nonviolence still means so much to so many and has made him one of the most galvanizing figures of the 20th Century.