Universal has officially dropped Paul Greengrass' latest docudrama, Memphis, which was gearing up to begin production this summer - in order to reach theaters by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend of 2012.
Uncertainty about the project being ready in time for a January 2012 release is the official explanation for Universal's decision to neither finance or distribute Memphis, a historical drama that will examine the days in Dr. King's life preceding his assassination in 1968.
Deadline is reporting that it's heard whisperings about the King estate not approving of Memphis and threatening to make its criticisms public if Universal moved forward with the project. Similar rumors popped up last fall when the currently defunct Selma, from director Lee Daniels (Precious), failed to get off the ground as well, and there's been speculation that the King family is holding out for DreamWorks' long-gestating MLK biopic to arrive first.
Memphis is an original script by Greengrass that dramatizes the events preceding Dr. King's death, an overall difficult and stressful time in the iconic civil rights activist's life. Not only was the historical figure much less popular amongst his followers, his personal life was deteriorating, and he had taken to excessive smoking and drinking as a means of stress management.
Greengrass was previously responsible for two acclaimed real-life dramas - Bloody Sunday and United 93 - that are generally credited for having dealt with their respective controversial subject matter in a tasteful and impartial manner. That's almost undoubtedly the same approach he would take in Memphis, which makes me all the more hopeful that the film gets picked up elsewhere.
A character piece like Memphis also has the potential to examine Dr. King as a person in a detail-rich manner and with more depth - by focusing on a specific portion of his career - and not trying to encompass the entirety of his eventful life over the course of two to three hours. A more standard biopic could be great in the right hands, no doubt, but Greengrass' project sounds more interesting to me right now.
We'll keep you updated on the status of Memphis as more information is released.