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

by Vanessa Martinez
August 23, 2011 11:55 AM
10 Comments
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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?

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10 Comments

  • Adeagbo Mudo | August 28, 2011 11:23 AMReply

    Playwright Hall said she took her play to London first cause t hey do not mind taking the mask off of their kings. She has a problem with what older black men tell about her play. They tell her that she has got it all wrong. She considers these remarks to be disturbing she claims to be connected to her culture and heritage. i do not feel that. We do not need a fictious play about the life and death of MLK...

  • PAUL VASSELL | August 27, 2011 1:26 AMReply

    It is beyound dispicable for a play of this nature 'Mountain Top' on Dr MLK to be done. Worst of all that a black "Dignified" actor like Samuel Jackson to be starring in it - knowing it comppletely undercuts every thing that King died as a martyr for. It would be understandable if some confused causeless "black" young male desperate for cash strap himself to alienation, obscurity & redicule by doing the film highliting hate

    But how will Jackson redeem himse lf like Gary Sobers selling himself with his rebel West indian cricketers going to S Africa while his black people their die like dogs at the hands of white oppressors?

  • urbanauteur | August 25, 2011 8:20 AMReply

    @Carissa, that title belongs to Al Roker:)

  • Carissa | August 25, 2011 6:37 AMReply

    I thought Morgan Freeman was the most revered black man in America?

  • misha | August 24, 2011 8:51 AMReply

    Jackson plays a house nigger in Django? Wow, I'm shocked!

    Love Bassett but not really interested in The Mountaintop and Jackson's thoughts certainly didn't help.

  • CareyCarey | August 24, 2011 3:50 AMReply

    Wow! I am yet to read the post. I clicked on it and now I see two of my favorite posters have distinctly mixed feelings... uuuummmm. I am off the read the whole post. I have a feeling it's going to get me upset. Don't tell me this is another one of those "Lets throw salt on another revered black man and er'body get paid - in the name of art"?

    Please, don't tell me it's the same ol same ol'... one brotha stinkin' up another brotha WITHOUT a gun. Divide & Conquer... I'm so tierd of that sh*t! From the top down, I see that mess every day. When one of ours gets to the mountain top, we can't wait to pull then down with some b.s. From Obama to Oprah to Malcolm to MLK, some negros can't wait to pimp - and pimp slap t- hose that have manage to overcome incredible odds.I hope this play is NOT on that!?

  • Ashley | August 24, 2011 2:15 AMReply

    Yes, I am looking forward to The Mountaintop AND Porgy & Bess on Broadway. Too bad The Mountaintop is a limited engagement.

  • JMac | August 24, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    After that description, I'm no longer interested. Lazy and expected writing to reduce someone with a reputation of morality and intellectualism into borderline ghetto trash. If "Ghandi "got the" Passion of the Christ" treatment I doubt anyone involved with its filming would have left India alive.

    Next why don't we portray Mother Theresa as a closet lesbian whore with jungle fever. No, let's reserve that for Oprah. It'll get more attention.

  • Jug | August 23, 2011 12:16 PMReply

    I reeally hope they bring it to L.A. I'm still whipping myself for missing FENCES with Fishburne & Bassett.

  • slb | August 23, 2011 12:15 PMReply

    Can't wait. I plan on going sometime in October. I'm interested in how Django Unchained will turn out. I found the script okay. It didn't really grab me. But Quentin has a way with visuals and I'll be interested to see how the script translates on screen.

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