Untangling the threads of Hollywood’s competing in-development biopics about Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is a task that’s complicated at best; rumors and murmurs on a number of dueling projects detailing the man’s life have been bouncing around for several years at the time of this writing, with no end in sight to the apparently Herculean struggle to secure a green light for any of them. If Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass can’t get MLK pictures off the ground, who can?
Apparently none other than Lady O herself, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has hopped on board the allusively titled Selma as a producer following her successful co-starring role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler; without missing a beat, Paramount has reacted to her newfound involvement on the film by scrambling to acquire US and Canadian distribution rights. After all the hemming and hawing, it turns out that Selma just needed the participation of someone with Oprah’s influence to grease the wheels on production.
Credit goes to Deadline for putting the word out. Reportedly, Oprah got roped into Selma thanks to the machinations of Ava DuVernay, the publicist-turned-filmmaker who replaced the aforementioned Daniels as director on the film last summer. Recently, DuVernay had the idea of sneaking a copy of her script to Oprah, and that one act of consideration has turned into what looks like a serious coup for the film’s momentum; while there’s no definite deal in place yet, this turn of events demonstrably puts Selma at the head of the pack of would-be MLK biopics.
Those include Greengrass’ Memphis, a hotly contested picture that has drawn resistance from King’s living relatives for its commitment to veracity, as well as Stone’s untitled film, which had Jamie Foxx courted to play King himself before Stone dropped the project. Memphis hasn’t shown many signs of life lately, either; given its tumultuous history, in which it has been picked up, dropped, and picked up again within the span of three years. (Oprah’s Butler costar Forest Whitaker was, at one point, attached to star, too.) Stone’s movie seems to be officially dead, while Memphis could very easily be described as “troubled,” at best.
Selma has a very clear edge over all recent attempts at making a film about the civil rights icon Dr. King. Having the star power of Oprah certainly has its advantages, after all, and DuVernay seems to have given the film stability that it previously lacked; no wonder Paramount has so suddenly jumped on the opportunity to tack down distribution rights.
Of course, none of this says anything about the content of the screenplay, or what the cast will end up looking like; maybe David Oyelowo, one of Winfrey’s The Butler co-stars, will come back into the fold to portray King, as originally slated. It’s certainly in the realm of possibility that Oprah will appear in front of the camera in some capacity or another, too, but that’s purely speculative.
For now, the real takeaway here is that Oprah has almost single-handedly spurred forward movement on one of the many MLK films lingering in development limbo. We’ll see if she and DuVernay have an interesting angle on King’s legacy in due time.
Screen Rant will keep you updated on further developments with Selma as they occur.
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