As you may remember, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King's assassination last April I wrote a commentary about just such a film, even going so far as to audaciously begin the casting process (tragically, one of my selections, Bernie Mac, has since passed away) and listing possible directors. Now just because Spielberg is the face of DreamWorks doesn't mean he would be the man at the helm for this film, but of course had he been one of the people I listed I would be taking full credit...but nevermind that.
Despite this major development, don't expect to see this movie in theaters anytime soon, at least before 2011 or so. CNN is reporting that DreamWorks is threatening to drop the project unless King's three surviving children settle some family infighting. Apparently Dexter King has been on the outs with Martin Luther King III and Bernice King in recent years, and he settled the deal with DreamWorks without consulting them. The studio doesn't want to get involved in the family feud so they're waiting until everyone plays nice.
Here are the important details from the CNN article:
" 'I think Mr. Spielberg is a great producer and we look forward to hearing from him about the scope of this agreement,' Bernice King said. 'We know nothing about the scope of this agreement. We have no details to say whether or not this particular one is a good idea.'
DreamWorks issued a statement Wednesday that suggested King family unity was essential for the movie to be made.
'The purpose of making a movie about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to tell a great story which could bridge distances and bring people together,' the statement said. 'We remain committed to pursuing a film chronicling Martin Luther King's life provided that there is unity in the family so we can make a film about unity in our nation.'
'Although my communication with family members has been somewhat stymied by the current litigation, I have continued to reach out and I remain committed to working together with my siblings on projects to educate people about the life, leadership and teachings of our father, Martin Luther King Jr.,' Dexter King said.
DreamWorks is 'a company with unrivaled resources for making epic films of the highest quality, offers an unprecedented opportunity for educating the largest possible audience about our father's legacy as the leader of America's greatest nonviolent movement,' he said.
'Just as Sir Richard Attenborough's film, Gandhi, educated many millions of people all over the world about the Mahatma's teachings, I believe this project can do the same regarding the life, work and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., and I sincerely hope my brother and sister will join us in supporting this urgently needed project,' Dexter King said.
Tom Houck, an Atlanta public relations agent who has known all three children since the 1960s, when he was their father's driver, suggested the dispute could be resolved.
'I don't think that either Martin or Bernice are opposed to having a megafilm done on the big screen by DreamWorks, but I think it's the mechanism and the way it was done that's got them upset,' Houck said."
Alright, now a few points:
- I've actually cooled on the idea for this movie a bit over the last year because I'm just nervous that it wouldn't be "good enough", whatever that would even mean. I wouldn't want someone to do it just to do it, I'd want someone to do it because they've found a way to do it well - really well.
- I don't think Spielberg would put himself in the director's chair for this, and I also don't think he should.
- The term "megafilm" worries me.
- 369 people voted in the casting poll I put up as part of that post, and 31% of them chose Terrence Howard (see the full results at the end of the comments section). I still think the runner-up, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is the man for the job, but I would also take a talented unknown any day of the week.
- I don't think a studio with "unrivaled resources" like DreamWorks necessarily needs to take this on. It shouldn't be overproduced and sleek and glossy and packaged based on marketing research. You'll need a decent budget to recreate the period and some of the large crowd scenes, but there's plenty of room for this movie to be humbly produced with attention to character, mood, accuracy, and thought. Something resembling Che more than W., but with as much mass appeal as Milk.
- Hey, Spielberg, check out my post while you're in pre-production!