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Forest Whitaker In Talks To Play Martin Luther King Jr. In Paul Greengrass' 'Memphis'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 30, 2013 8:55 PM
10 Comments
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One of at least 5 film projects in the works based on either the life of MLK, or some significant period during his 39 years on this planet, director Paul Greengrass' MLK assassination pic, Memphis, was once a sure-thing, before the studio initially set to back it, Universal Pictures, decided against financing and distributing the film.

Last we reported on it, in November, 2012, it looked like it was back in motion, when French distribution company Wild Bunch, came onboard, with super producer Scott Rudin producing, after almost a year in hiatus. 

The script was said to be "Oscar caliber stuff," by those who claimed to have read it at the time.

Skip ahead to today, to news that Forest Whitaker is in talks to play Martin Luther King Jr. in Greengrass' film - according to The Wrap, in an exclusive, adding that Abu Dhabi-based Veritas Films is joining Wild Bunch in financing the film, which looks like it will be Greengrass' next project, which he plans to shoot in a similar "docu-style" as he did with United 93.

But chances are, if the script Greengrass is going to go with is the same as it's always been, it'll likely be one of those biopics that is made without the approval of those protecting the image of the subject.

You'll recall that there was pressure from the MLK estate (and Andrew Young's objections) to call off the project, because they were unhappy with its "warts and all" script.

The film will focus on the events leading up to King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, while he was trying to organize the city’s sanitation workers in spring of 1968. It will also focus on the manhunt for James Earl Ray.

Meanwhile, Lee Daniels' Selma, which was announced before Greengrass' project, and was once thought to be his next film right after Precious, will likely never see the light of day,

The only one that has seemed like a sure-thing is the Oprah Winfrey/HBO/Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks project that has the backing of King’s estate - the only one that we're aware of, with the estate's approval.

Forest Whitaker as MLK? Hmm... I don't immediately see it. But I like Whitaker as an actor, and I'm certainly open to being convinced. 

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10 Comments

  • Julius Hollingsworth | June 3, 2013 7:17 AMReply

    Interesting what draws controversy.Yet others do not.Sam Jackson was at least 60 years old when he played King no controversy. Great actors both. can we believe it is the question with makeup.It's about making money.In What's love got o do with it Angela Bassett +Jenifer Lewis played mother and daughter in real life they are maybe a year or two apart if that.The magic of acting as if.

  • Anton | June 3, 2013 5:23 AMReply

    I think the late, great Paul Winfield was the gold standard to which all actors are judged when assuming the role as Dr. King. No actor came close, in my opinion.

  • CareyCarey | June 1, 2013 1:09 AMReply

    Whitaker's age is the least of my concerns. Listen, he may be all that, but he is not a Jefferey Wright nor a Denzel Washington. My point?

    Take a look at the role in which Forrest excelled. In The Last King of Scotland he played Idi Amin. Now, who among us had a clear image of the dictator, Amin? My point? Forrest could play him over-the-top (which he did) because we didn't have an intelligible image that we could reference, so we "accepted" his portrayal of a man who many of us knew little or nothing about. On the other hand, MLK would have to played with reserved nuance, not broad facial expressions in which is Forrest is noted for.

    And please take a close look at Whitaker's face. Again, age aside, can anyone invasion him looking anything like Dr. King? I am sorry, I can't get past his ugly mug and lazy eye. Second, Dr. King was a short man, Forrest is a very tall man. I know, it's all in the performance... blah blah blah, but if I "see" Forrest Whitaker, I will never accept him as Martin Luther King. I mean, that was the brilliance in Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray, he WAS Ray Charles.

    Again, Forrest may be a grand actor, but I am waiting for someone to direct me to a performance in which he settled down and played it straight, as Jefferey Wright and Denzel has done on many occasions. Please, it's-not-gonna-happen, truth be told, he has never been there.

    Btw... "At this point, I think, the bio-pic that dramatizes the moral struggles, the failings as well as the successes are the only compelling stories that are left to tell about MLK"

    WHAT moral struggles? WHAT failings? And why would those allegations be a compelling story? Geez, what would be the purpose behind THAT story? Compelling? HOW... and to whom?

  • Ava | May 31, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    I'm sorry to have to say this but Forrest Whitaker looks every bit his age. I know people said that with the stress in MLK's life, it aged him but he couldn't have that much (at least on the outside).

    At this point, I think, the bio-pic that dramatizes the moral struggles, the failings as well as the successes are the only compelling stories that are left to tell about MLK since everything else has been done to exhaustion!
    And while as an artist, I find necessity in relating the truth, I hope people are not looking for a history lesson in a movie. It is still entertainment.

    Unlike other discussions where we've debated the merits of certain actors doing certain roles (*coughs Zoe Saldana and Lenny Kravitz) Whitaker's acting credentials are unassailable, yet the glaring issue is staring us all in the face. Unless there is a time machine to take us back to the Crying Game years, I don't believe I can realistically see him in this role at his age.

  • Juwan Dickerson | May 31, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    Hollywood casting agents must think all Black people look alike! I kid I kid of course, not really but I digress.

    I don't see Forrest Whitaker as MLK either. No disrespect to his talent and acting ability because he is a very fine thespian and but if this casting is true it would take much suspension of disbelief. But on the other hand I do wish that other Black actors especially young or otherwise underrated or unknown actors were given more opportunities for meaty roles. For example this would have been a good followup for Chadwick Boseman coming off of 42, although he is younger than MLK. Or better yet Anthony Mackie who does favor MLK a little. But on the other hand anyone would be better than Tyrese who's been campaigning to play MLK.

  • SAVANNAH MORGAN | May 31, 2013 9:47 AMReply

    Ssssuuuurrrreeee! Forest Whitaker can play MLK... MLK SR.

    Checking the gate.... moving on!

  • Greengrass | May 31, 2013 5:59 AMReply

    The reason MLK's estate didnt like the script is because the script draws attention to his adulterous behaviour and some nastier sides of his personality. The film is not an attack on MLK, just a detailed, three dimensional portrait of a HUMAN BEING.

  • hiveship99 | May 31, 2013 5:42 AMReply

    Ok, folks were mad about Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone. Well, this is just as ridiculous.

  • History | May 31, 2013 12:16 AMReply

    Okay. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 39 when he died. Forest Whitaker is 51. 51. I mean, seriously. There is no one else? No one? Expect more from Paul Greengrass...

  • ALM | May 30, 2013 9:16 PMReply

    I love Mr. Whitaker, but I don't see him as MLK either. I think Whitaker is a good actor, but I can't even imagine him nailing MLK's way of speaking.

    Jeffrey Wright nailed his version of MLK, and he doesn't even look similar to MLK. This brings back the discussion we have been having. Even though Jeffrey looks nothing like MLK, he was very believable in that role, because Jeffrey Wright is amazing.

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