Director Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King, Jr. film Selma will open in limited release on Christmas Day before going wide on January 9, 2015. Paramount and Pathé’s Paul Webb-scripted awards season drama has the powerhouse backing of producers Oprah Winfrey, Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave shingle Plan B, and Cloud Eight Films’ Oscar-winner Christian Colson (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire). The film stars David Oyelowo as the iconic civil rights leader and tracks King’s struggle to secure voting rights for all people, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Starring alongside Oyelowo are Tom Wilkinson as Johnson, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Andre Holland as Andrew Young, Omar J. Dorsey as James Orange, Alessandro Nivola as John Doar, Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover, Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, Stephen Root as Al Lingo, Jeremy Strong as James Reeb, Tim Roth as George Wallace, and Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper.
EXCLUSIVE: After playing Monaco’s Prince Rainer III in the Cannes opening-night film Grace Of Monaco, Tim Roth will play another period figure in a major feature. He’s signing on to the cast of Selma, and he will be playing George Wallace, the Alabama governor who favored segregation and whose bullying tactics galvanized Martin Luther King Jr and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. The Ava DuVernay-directed film for Paramount is shaping up with a strong cast that includes David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Tom Wilkinson is President Lyndon Johnson. Wallace turned out to be a key player in the proceedings, though it hardly ended up like he hoped it would. He vowed to stop the march, and when the first wave of protesters turned up, they were brutally beaten by Wallace’s Alabama State Troopers. This created national outrage, and protesters white and black began arriving from all over the country. The continued violence led LBJ to say that this was not a black problem or a white problem but an American problem, and it prompted the president to push for the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed African-Americans the right to vote.
Common is near a deal to play prominent civil rights activist James Bevel and Andre Holland is set to play Andrew Young in Selma, the Ava DuVernay-directed drama that has Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt’s Plan B producing at Paramount. David Oyelowo is playing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bevel, field general of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was a key figure in the politically charged march against segregation in Alabama.
Holland, who stars opposite Clive Owen in the Steven Soderbergh Cinemax series The Knick and opposite Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in the Mike Binder-directed Black And White, plays Young, who was long a close confidante of MLK. Common is repped by CAA, Holland by Paradigm and Brookside Artist Management.
EXCLUSIVE: For years, I’ve been writing about all the futility involved in attempts to bring the life of iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr to the screen. So here’s a big one. I’m hearing that David Simon, the architect of the HBO series The Wire, Homicide and most recently Treme, will spearhead the HBO six-hour miniseries adaptation of America: In The King Years, based on the celebrated book trilogy by Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch. Just as will happen with the Ava DuVernay-directed Selma, Oprah Winfrey will be backing this project as well in a producing capacity.
Winfrey’s Harpo banner originally set up the three books at HBO in 2010 with the plan that it would be overseen by The Kentucky Cycle playwright Robert Schenkkan. While I’ve been trying to confirm the Simon part to no avail at HBO for weeks, I’m told reliably that Simon has assured Branch that he is taking on the project, which instantly becomes a beachhead project for HBO, covering King and his relationships with Lyndon Johnson, John F and Robert Kennedy, as well as the freedom rides, the Birmingham and Selma campaigns, and the poor people’s march on Washington that he was organizing when he was killed in Memphis. It is the perfect venue to tell the story of King’s long struggle.
I’ve heard that Simon will write at least the first episode, as well as the bible for the entire mini. He and Treme co-creator Eric Overmyer will see the entire mini through completion. This is a broad canvas, spanning Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Parting The Waters, as well as Pillar Of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge.
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.
NBC News To Air ’63 ‘Meet The Press’ Broadcast With Martin Luther King, Jr. On Washington March Anniversary
NBC News will rerun the August 25, 1963 broadcast of its Sunday Beltway show Meet The Press this Sunday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The broadcast featured an interview with Martin Luther King Jr, three days before he delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial; the episode will be broadcast in its entirety, except for the tease for the next week’s episode — in ’63 (check out a clip below). Meet the Press Special Edition: Remembering The Dream will air on NBC’s 10 owned-and-operated stations, New England Cable News, and numerous NBC affiliates. As of now, nearly 80 stations, covering more than 62% of the country, were on board. but in most places it will preempt local news or local political affairs shows. In most markets, the half-hour program will air immediately before or after the regularly scheduled broadcast of Meet The Press; viewers should check local listings for exact times. The regularly scheduled Meet The Press, anchored by David Gregory, also will be devoted to the anniversary of the March. Just three days before delivering his iconic speech, King joined Meet The Press to discuss the march’s call for civil rights legislation, jobs, freedom, and social equality.
Denzel Washington will narrate PBS‘ The March, a documentary chronicling the dramatic stories behind the historic 1963 March on Washington, credited as being a watershed moment in the civil rights movement that helped usher in sweeping civil rights legislation.
Roger Mudd was among those who showed up at PBS’ Q&A for the documentary, premiering on August 27. Mudd was CBS’s anchor for the network’s anchor for the network’s dawn-to-dusk live coverage of the march. Mudd, a congressional correspondent, covering Capitol Hill at the time, said this afternoon, “It was a hermetically sealed existence.”
Director Lee Daniels had long planned for David Oyelowo to play Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, until that film suffered a series of setbacks. Daniels instead just set Oyelowo to play the role of Yardley in The Paperboy. He’ll play a journalist who teams with another writer (Matthew McConaughey) to investigate a murder conviction for a death-row inmate (John Cusack) in Florida. It’s based on the Pete Dexter novel, and Millennium/Nu Image picked up the Pedro Almodovar-produced film during Cannes.
Oyelowo is about to open as the businessman whose greed inadvertently hatches an infestation of intelligent primates in Fox’s Rise of the Apes. Oyelowo, who got his start in the British spy series MI-5, also plays a role in The Help this summer. He is repped by ICM, Glenn Rigberg and UK-based Christian Hodell.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that MLK date waits for him. While I’d heard that King’s heirs put pressure on Daniels, the financing was in place with distribution from The Weinstein Company when Daniels chose The Paperboy over Selma and his other civil rights project, The Butler. Daniels also had a cast that included Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson and Robert De Niro.
While there is currently uncertainty over the status of the Paul Greengrass-directed Martin Luther King Jr film Memphis and the Lee Daniels-directed MLK film Selma, Samuel L. Jackson has just committed to playing the civil rights leader on Broadway in The Mountaintop. The move was long-rumored, but he will not be joined by Halle Berry, whose child-custody issues will keep her from joining Jackson. He becomes the latest film star to take a stage turn, and Broadway has been the better for it. Here’s the official announcement:
New York, NY – It was announced today that Samuel L. Jackson will make his Broadway debut starring as Dr. Martin Luther King in the Broadway production of the new play, The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall directed by Tony Award Nominee Kenny Leon (Fences, A Raisin in the Sun). The Mountaintop will begin performances on September 22, 2011, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (242 West 45th Street), with an official opening on Thursday, October 13, 2011. Tickets for The Mountaintop will go on sale at a later date.
The Mountaintop is produced by Jean Doumanian Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions, Ambassador Theatre Group, Jerry Frankel, Ted Snowdon, Bob Bartner, and Tom Wirtshafter.
In a joint statement, Ms. Doumanian and Ms. Friedman said, “The Mountaintop is a brilliantly conceived gem of a play. An ambitious work of fiction that is powerful, heartbreaking, humorous and exhilarating. We are thrilled to be bringing Katori Hall’s remarkable, Olivier-winning work to New York, and to present a singular new American voice to Broadway audiences. And we are honored to be presenting the Broadway debut of the great Samuel L. Jackson.”
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has dropped plans to finance and distribute Memphis, the Paul Greengrass-directed film about the final days and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The studio has halted progress on a film scripted by Greengrass and produced by Scott Rudin. Universal picked it up last month, with plans to put the picture in to production in June so that it could be ready for release around MLK Weekend, 2012. Why has this happened? The studio confirms that it halted the movie, but attributed it to timing and scheduling, and an uncertainty the film could be pulled together in time for next February.
I’ve heard another factor put pressure on the picture: the MLK estate was highly critical of the project, and exerted pressure on the studio to call it off. I’ve heard that Andrew Young, former confidante of the civil rights leader, reached out to Universal personally to register his objections. Now, I’d heard similar whispers when Lee Daniels was trying to make the MLK project, Selma, which seemed about to get underway last fall when The Weinstein Company stepped up as financier, but didn’t get off the ground. The family, I’ve heard, made it known that it might go public with its displeasure over Greengrass’s script, which could have hurt the film’s theatrical prospects. Whether this is because the film goes in controversial directions, or because the …
EXCLUSIVE: What has happened with Sony Pictures’ plans to mount an exciting new biopic of Cleopatra, with Angelina Jolie attached as the Egyptian queen, based on Stacy Schiff’s bestselling book Cleopatra: A Life? I’m told the director conversation right now is with David Fincher, who just got a Best Director Oscar nomination working with Cleopatra producer Scott Rudin, and who is working with Rudin on the Stieg Larsson novel adaptation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, also at Sony Pictures.
You’ll recall last October that Deadline revealed James Cameron’s keen interest in directing a PG-13 3D version of the movie with a Brian Helgeland script, until 20th Century Fox stepped up and got him to commit instead to two Avatar sequels. After that, speculation centered around Paul Greengrass, who wound up instead directing his own script, Memphis, about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., for Universal, also with Rudin producing.
It’s not surprising that the top directors in town are after this gig. As Rudin has described it, this is the first telling of the Cleopatra story from a woman’s perspective. Instead of simply being a seductress, as she was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz-directed film, Cleopatra is also a shrewd politician, strategist and warrior, with sexual charisma to spare. The feeling is the role is a perfect fit for Jolie, who might be the only actress right now with the box office …
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Scott Rudin to produce Sinatra, the film Martin Scorsese will direct about the life of singer-actor Frank Sinatra. Rudin joins Mandalay’s Peter Guber and Cathy Schulman, who brought in the project to the studio almost two years ago after they secured life and music rights from Frank Sinatra Enterprises, which is a joint venture of the estate of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Warner Music Group. Phil Alden Robinson had been the original writer, but I’m told they are looking for another scribe. Scorsese’s Sikelia is also producing as is Tina Sinatra.
Rudin, nominated twice in the Best Picture Oscar race this year for producing The Social Network and True Grit, produced the 1999 Scorsese-directed Bringing Out the Dead. Rudin’s currently producing the David Fincher-directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which Steve Zaillian adapted from the Stieg Larsson novel, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the Stephen Daldry-directed adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel that stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. He is prepping at Paramount the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Dictator, and at Universal he’s got the Paul Greengrass-directed Martin Luther King Jr. assassination drama Memphis.
Paul Greengrass is reportedly considering an MLK drama he’s written called Memphis, which would be produced by Scott Rudin. I’m told it’s by no means definite, but if Vulture’s scoop happens – it will happen fast, and will be done down and dirty like Greengrass’s United 93. It could push him past several percolating MLK projects, including: Lee Daniels’ Selma; a Ronald Harwood-scripted drama at DreamWorks that has Steven Spielberg producing and is authorized by MLK’s estate; and the HBO mini that Harpo Films is doing based on Taylor Branch’s book trilogy. There is also the film Wesley Snipes signed on to produce (before heading to prison) about J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to discredit MLK…
EXCLUSIVE: Despite facing a 3-year jail stretch after a long battle with the IRS, Wesley Snipes has become the catalyst for a feature that explores FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. — and the fatal guilt carried by the Hoover henchman charged with wiretapping King’s phone and pulling dirty tricks. Snipes also tells me that he is producing and hopes to play a role in the Justin Stamm-scripted Code Name Zorro, one of several projects Snipes is percolating under his Maandi Media Productions banner. Snipes wouldn’t go into a lot of detail into his current IRS situation, other than to say “It’s all good, put it like that.” But the actor, who recently brightened up the ensemble of Brooklyn’s Finest but had to be replaced in Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna because he couldn’t leave the country, is itching to get busy again.
He has been using that energy to get a sit down with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, and Snipes said he came away with a family endorsement for a film that asks hard questions about how King was treated by Hoover’s FBI because the civil rights leader was seen as a threat. Snipes fell in love with the script and is producing with 4 Reel Entertainment’s Diana Stamm, Ed Elbert and Tony Oppedisano. “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, and this is an important project that has my focus,” Snipes told me. “Acting is my main lane, and I’m planning to expand that, taking the success of films like Blade and marinating that into something that flourishes.”
So, how about another turn as the iconic Marvel Comics vampire hunter? “Maybe we get around to doing another Blade, except, from what I’m reading, every other actor is talking about playing him, and nobody is talking to Wesley,” he said. “How strange that they don’t come and talk to me about it.”