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. Read More »
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.”
Related: Opposition To Martin Luther King Films Reveals Hard Truths About Biopic Biz
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. Read More »
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 … Read More »
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.” Read More »
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 … Read More »
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.”
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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 … Read More »
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 … Read More »
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. Read More »
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 … Read More »
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.”
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