Forest Whitaker In Talks to Play Martin Luther King, Jr. for Paul Greengrass’ ‘Memphis’

Published 2 years ago by

Whitaker MLK Forest Whitaker In Talks to Play Martin Luther King, Jr. for Paul Greengrass Memphis

After winning a Best Actor Oscar for his role in 2006′s The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker has only had a handful of high-profile projects. Other than a turn on TV’s Criminal Minds and a supporting role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle The Last Stand, none of his more recent choices have had the same impact as his larger-than-life role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

The 2013 awards season could prove different, however. Whitaker headlines Precious director Lee Daniels’ upcoming drama The Butler, and now The Wrap reports that he is in talks to portray legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in The Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass’ long-in-the-works biopic Memphis.

Greengrass wrote the script for Memphis himself, based on his personal research into the last days of King and the immediate aftermath of his assassination by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He approached Scott Rudin (No Country For Old Men) to produce in 2011 but that version did not come together. The director and producer moved on to make the true-story modern pirate drama Captain Phillips, which releases this year.

Memphis looks to be a go now, with Abu Dhabi-based Veritas Films and French financier Wild Bunch backing the film. The script is reportedly a warts-and-all examination of King as he arrives in Memphis to support a strike by black public sanitation employees.

With his marriage on the rocks, King was said to be smoking and drinking heavily. He was out of favor with President Lyndon Johnson due to his outspoken criticism of the war in Vietnam and his popularity was waning as the Black Power movement caught on and his nonviolent approach was seen as ineffective. Greengrass is said to be taking the same “docu-drama” approach to make this as his previous true-life stories Bloody Sunday and United 93.

Paul Greengrass Forest Whitaker In Talks to Play Martin Luther King, Jr. for Paul Greengrass Memphis

The project has been reported as virtually dead and then back to life before, but with Whitaker’s name involved, it really looks like Greengrass’ film will happen. MLK’s life is a thorny subject, and while he was last portrayed by Jeffrey Wright in the 2001 HBO original movie Boycott, projects such as Lee Daniels’ Selma and Orders to Kill with Hugh Jackman as an attorney investigating the assassination failed to materialize.

Greengrass’ project sounds particularly interesting given that it’s apparently not based on any pre-existing biographical property but on the director’s own research. It sounds like a personal project in the vein of Oliver Stone’s JFK, which was similarly controversial. While we have the basic facts of what happened to King, the details are not widely known. King’s family – who have a competing biopic set up at DreamWorks – are said to be unhappy with Greengrass’ script, which may shed light on some unsavory aspects of the man (such as his long-rumored infidelities).

If there is one director who can present a strikingly realistic and multi-faceted portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s Paul Greengrass. His touch with real-life subject matter has resulted in some remarkable films. He has never shied away from overt politics, but while his Bourne movies successfully mixed them with popcorn entertainment,  his Iraq thriller The Green Zone placed them front and center and promptly bombed at the box office. Time will tell how Memphis works but stay tuned for details as they emerge.

In the meantime, The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker (and featuring MLK as a character) opens on August 16th, 2013. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks opens on October 11th, 2013.


Source: The Wrap

Follow Anthony Vieira on Twitter @malaclyptic
TAGS: Memphis
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  1. I’ve wondered for a while now why there hasn’t been a proper “feature length” film made about Dr. King. It seemed during the 90′s that it was just a matter of time before one was made after JFK, Malcom X, Nixon and so on where coming out but to my bewilderment it’s never happened.

    • I’ve also wondered the same thing too, why Malcom X has a movie ? and not Dr. King. I guess is very challenging and controversial to play Dr. King but I thought one time that someday there will be a Bio movie of him.

  2. But…he doesn’t even look like Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s kind of a big deal.

    Sort of like how Tom Hanks is playing Walt Disney. You can’t just take some random big name actor and make him an American icon without putting some thought into the overall process.

    • Soooo… I’m going to get crap for this but here it goes…

      But… Martin Luther King, Jr didn’t have a lazy eye…

      • Actually, that was my first thought when I read the headline.

  3. How shall I put this nicely?

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of his times; like JFK, he was polite to women but heedless of them. These kinds of truths were commonly seen in that generation of men who wore the armor of the Knight Templar that bore a mantle full of chinks.

    It’s more than mildly annoying that a bio-pict of MLKjr has successfully avoided the feature film treatment (due to political correctness). But never mind all that. We ponder the puzzle of this civil rights leader with no one in the room actually having a clue as to how deep the swamp really is in a role model’s life.

    How deep is it, really? Paul Greengrass may accomplish something here by wading into it, overcoming the darkness in King’s life…and maybe even Spike Lee’s inevitable frustration for having done so.

    • @Frederick Louis Richardson Yeah Spike Lee is gonna get pissed that a Black Director isn’t telling this story, And even more pissed off That it’s not him.

    • @Frederick


      A Movie based on Martin Luther King Jr, today would be lost on the majority of people who it would be aimed at.

      What Martin Luther King fought for, what he stood up for, what he boycotted for and ultimately what he died for. The current generation of African Americans do not, have not, nor will they ever understand the accomplishment and sacrificed that Martin Luther King Jr did for their parents. It those same parents I hold responsible for not keeping the dream alive.They have not earned the right to have a movie based on MLK.

      The entire message of Martin Luther King jr has become an afterthought. The crime against black by blacks in the United States is not what Martin Luther King Jr Lived and Died for.

      It is just another Movie to them. Rev Al Sharpton, Rev Jesser Jackson. They do not need to be named in the same vein as MLK.

      The African American Race, do not deserve anything new on Martin Luther King Jr.

      Not till they stop killing themselves.

      • Didn’t Bill Cosby say something in similar fashion.

        • We Philly Boys stick together.

          I actually read some of Martin Luther King’s work at the Crozer Theological Seminary.

          It was a pre-life decision, I for a moment wanted to be a Minister.

  4. So, they are saying MLKjr looks like Idi Amin….lol

    • Unfortunately based on the small synopsis the movie won’t focus on the good. It will be used to talk about his “drinking and smoking” and the fact that his nonviolent ways were getting overshadowed by the black power movement

      • @Michael

        And why is that a bad thing?

        No hero was born on this earth that did not first have to overcome his own demons and those around him trying to hold him back.

  5. Wow the talent pool must be very low. Dont get me Wrong Whitaker can act, I just don’t see him in this role.

  6. People were doubtful about Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles so maybe Forest Whitaker could pull it off.Some other actors could be Laurence Fishburne who possesses the poise and elocution for the role but he’s 51,Nate Parker is 33 and was good In The Great Debaters and The Secret Life of Bees,Chiwetel Ejiofor is 35 he can act and has shown to be Versatile and believable in his roles.

  7. Time to stir up an un-asked-for firestorm:
    We should have a white guy play this part.
    WHAT?! No Way, you say?
    But what about all the times when everyone wants to rewrite stuff and have white guys’ parts played by blacks, again and again and again?
    screaming your ox is gored now?
    Alright then, shut your pie-holes and don’t let me hear a peep out of any of you who wanted to switch stripes on the zebra, so to speak.
    Now, just so you don’t all get your thongie-wongies in a bindy-bundle, here is the score:
    I have nothing against people of ANY race, at all, not whatsoever, when they make sense.
    I have nothing against Dr. King, or this actor who actually is a pretty decent actor.
    I am just making a point.
    Because so many of you who want to do the old “reverse the colors on the penguin” thing just really irritate me, and alot of other people, also.
    I love whites, blacks, and every other ethnic background; I am probably the most unbiased person in the world, including you and your own personal continents.
    I just feel whites should play whites, as written, asians play asians parts, blacks play black parts, latinos play latinos, etc.
    What is wrong with that?
    If ANY of you have a problem with that, then the bias, the discrimination, and the hatesy-waitsy stuff is you. It’s all about you.
    Just so you all know.
    OK, I’ll go back to being nice now (the way I have been ripped apart in the past on this subject, if I grabbed you haters by the scruff of your necks and swung you around like a pendulum, not a jury in the land would convict me).
    Why am I so excited? Actually I’m not.
    Just making a mountain out of a molehill as revenge on the segment of the world who has done it to me on this subject before.
    If you take umbrage with this, please excuse me, ignore me, and pound sand.

    • They never switch up the nationality of a historical figure when the film itself is based on actual events in the life of that figure. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a major influence on African American civil rights because he put himself in the shoes of people of his skin color that were less fortunate than he was and he did not fight to rule over the Caucasians. MLKJ was a good-hearted Christian who spoke from the other side of what most white people believed was right. Yeah, he was a man of great words, but adding onto that fact was that he was a man of God (which so many white people claimed to be, but they were just pulling that out of their a**es) who believed equality could come if we could just stop and feel for each other rather than just by looking at them.

      • And it was a good sentiment.

    • You realize that MLK was a REAL person, right?

  8. Whitaker ? …nothing like him !

    • Yes, he is good. I first encountered him on “The Shield”, opposite michael Chiklis (who also had that part of Vic Mackey, a corrupt nails-hard cop, down to a “T”!).

      • I remember Whitaker from Species (originally). He was the weird dude who would always take off his lil hat LOL

        • I first saw Forest Whitaker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

          • Oh yeah, he was the football player with the car or something? Man, its been a day since Ive seen that.

  9. Forest Whitaker is a terrible choice to play MLK Jr like many comments above he doesn’t resemble him in anyway. The most noticeable difference is his lazy eye, c’mon that will not fly. Terrence Howard would be a way better choice. And an ideal fit would be Jeffrey Wright.

    • Jeffrey Wright already portrayed Martin Luther King Jr in HBOs Boycott.

      • yeah I remember that, it was an ok performance

      • That’s why I think he should get the opportunity to portray him again he’s grown as an actor and unlike Forest he actually shows sons resemblance to MLK. Terrence Howard could be another possibility as well.

    • I was just being an ass. In all this commotion about actors/actresses not “looking” like their portrayal (height, weight, race) I decided to say something stupid.

  10. Haven’t we had enough of biopics about blacks? Why don’t you make a movie about Einstein, or Mark Twain, or J.R.R. Tolkein? I’m tired of all these movies that are made to make white people feel guilty.

    • @Bobice.


      You are coming off a tad bit racist.

      • Just because something is true does not make it racist.

        • @Bobice The straight story, The Pianist, Patton, The Aviator, The Queen, Milk, Capote, Lincoln, Nixon, Raging Bull are all movies about white people that made an impact. If white people feel “guilty” that’s sad because that isn’t the purpose of black biopics. It’s just to educate everyone on the impact blacks had on America. And to make money. Don’t be so sensitive.

          • You’re the one who’s being sensitive here, getting all defensive and s***.

            • Nah.

              • Yah

  11. Will Farrell should play MLK.