Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! Now Let's Talk About the Problems With Biopics
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day comes with a side of life-rights controversy. There have recently been two separate attempts to make an MLK biopic, both of which have been shot down by his estate that controls the rights to his famous, and heavily copyrighted, speeches. Both biopic scripts included depictions of Dr. King having extramarital affairs, which have been long rumored but never confirmed by any of his surviving family or friends. Some Civil Rights leaders have even offered to fly to Hollywood to set the record straight, but so far, a meeting between movie execs and survivors of Dr. King has not happened.
The proposed biopics were helmed by Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass, both prominent white filmmakers who aimed to make biopics that portrayed King as a flawed, but well-rounded character. Although Stone very publicly moved away from his project, Greengrass (who also made the Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips) has said that he will go toe-to-toe with the estate to make his version a few years form now. Stone may be the more qualified of the two, since he made the 1991 biopic of Kennedy, as well as a documentary on Dr. King's relationship with JFK. His official announcement that he was dropping out of his own project came with a stream of upset tweets, that started off reasonably...
Sad news. My MLK project involvement has ended. I did an extensive rewrite of the script, but the producers won't go with it.— (@theoliverstone) #
...then got a bit more heated, and honestly, a little racist...
I'm told the estate & the 'respectable' black community that guard King's reputation won't approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth.— (@theoliverstone) #
and finally, included some sort seance-like appeal do Dr. King himself.
Martin, I grieve for you. You are still a great inspiration for your fellow Americans-but, thank God, not a saint.— (@theoliverstone) #
As a person who doesn't know the King estate personally, I have to question Stone's motives here. First, his implication that "respectable" African Americans are the problem with his film is just flat-out wrong. There are plenty of estates that have shut down projects, and often for good reasons. Why do you think that the J. R. R. Tolkien biopic has taken this long. Also, by even using the term "respectable" in quotes (as well as "they" in a later tweet) he gestures toward a tradition of disrespect for powerful African American leaders as members of an "upper" or "elite" class of politic influencers.
I know you were mad, Mr. Stone, but you did not need to take the discussion there.
Perhaps we won't ever see a "warts-and-all" biopic of the Reverend Doctor, and that might not be such a bad thing. The last time I checked, we still teach our children to celebrate the founding fathers, without discussing their ownership of human beings.
So maybe our country needs a biopic called Thomas Jefferson: Owner and Rapist of Women before we need to "expose" affairs in Dr. King's life that may have never happened. Or we could do something that Hollywood hates, and produce a boring biopic about his unparalleled speaking ability and organization of the Civil Rights movement, instead of treating his life like an Us Weekly cover story.