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"He was as fragile and as flawed as anyone," Samuel L. Jackson Talks MLK Jr. in 'The Mountaintop'

Shadow and Act By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act August 23, 2011 at 11:55AM

“The King I am showing just came in from delivering the ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech,” says Jackson. The reverend is very tired, and the only other actor onstage is Jackson’s longtime friend Angela Bassett, who plays Camae, a hotel employee delivering room service who stays to talk. “He’s the guy alone in a hotel room talking to a woman. He’s the man as a man, not as a martyr or ideologue. He just happened to be the guy who wasn’t afraid to stand up for the right idea. But outside of that, he was as fragile and as flawed as anyone.”
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“The King I am showing just came in from delivering the ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech,” says Jackson. The reverend is very tired, and the only other actor onstage is Jackson’s longtime friend Angela Bassett, who plays Camae, a hotel employee delivering room service who stays to talk. “He’s the guy alone in a hotel room talking to a woman. He’s the man as a man, not as a martyr or ideologue. He just happened to be the guy who wasn’t afraid to stand up for the right idea. But outside of that, he was as fragile and as flawed as anyone.”

An interview excerpt from NY Mag just released yesterday, where Samuel L. Jackson delves into his character Martin Luther King Jr's motivations in Katori Hall's broadway play The Mountaintop. The play, also starring Angela Bassett in the role of the maid Camae, begins previews on September 22nd at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre with an official opening of October 13th. Jackson also talks about growing up in the segregated south, his career and his role in Django Unchained, which we'll get to in a minute.

Having read the screenplay for the highly anticipated Broadway play, set in Memphis on the night before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel, I'm conflicted by its depiction of the main two characters, especially that of MLK Jr.

The screenplay is cleverly written, engaging and at times amusing. However, without giving away any major spoilers, MLK Jr. is portrayed as a flirtatious, chain smoking reverend who utters the word "nigger" loosely as he's trying to relax inside his motel room for the night. Call me naive, but I don't agree in "fragile and flawed as anyone." Individuals have particular flaws that don't apply to all personalities. Yes, he could very well face temptation, but I have a hard time believing MLK Jr. would make some of these choices and insist on the company of this foul-mouthed woman, regardless of her physical assets. In short, it doesn't do much for honoring his image.

That being said, fiction writers take liberties; it is still a creative piece of imaginative art and I would still like to see what Jackson and Bassett bring to the play.

In the NY Mag interview, Jackson also expressed how he would like younger people to “find out that King is more than just a speech. He made the ultimate sacrifice. Guys like him, like Gandhi and Jesus, they stood up for something and got killed for it. But hopefully the movement carries on."

Of his role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, Jackson says, “I play Stephen, the quintessential faithful house nigger, I will go from being the most revered black man in America to being the most hated cinematic Negro in the history of film.”

Given all the controversy surrounding this western/slave exploitation drama, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. :)

Are you looking forward to The Mountaintop? Thoughts?

This article is related to: Theater, Quote, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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