Martin Luther King Jr. bio set for bigscreen
Spielberg will produce DreamWorks pic
By TATIANA SIEGEL
DreamWorks has acquired the life rights to Martin Luther King Jr. and is bringing a biopic on the slain civil rights leader to the bigscreen.
Steven Spielberg, Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones will produce.
King, who was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis at the age of 39, copyrighted his speeches, books and famous works during his lifetime. The DreamWorks project marks the first film to be authorized by King's estate and gives the producers the right to utilize King's intellectual property -- including his famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered during the 1963 March on Washington -- to create the definitive portrait of his life.
"We are all honored that the King Estate is giving us the opportunity to tell the story of these defining, historic events," Spielberg said. "It is our hope that the creative power of film and the impact of Dr. King's life can combine to present a story of undeniable power that we can all be proud of."
A King film has been a longtime dream for Spielberg and DreamWorks CEO and co-chairman Stacey Snider, who has been working feverishly on acquiring the rights since exiting Paramount Pictures and setting up a solo enterprise.
King's son Dexter, who is chairman and CEO of the King Estate, has been embroiled in a legal tussle with his siblings Bernice King and Martin Luther King III over who controls the personal papers of their late mother, Coretta Scott King, among other things.
King, who was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
"In trying to tackle such an ambitious project, the question we had to ask ourselves is, 'Why now?' " Snider said. "The answer lies in MLK's own words: 'All progress is precarious.' With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us every day to stand up to hatred and inequality."
De Passe was an executive producer on the miniseries "Lonesome Dove."
Jones has been a central figure in developing and managing the intellectual property of King. He also exec produced "King: Montgomery to Memphis" for CNN and "Assassinated: Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, Jr." for TBS.
Jones and de Passe co-produced the 2009 Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball.
Two of Martin Luther King Jr.'s children oppose film deal
6 hours ago
ATLANTA — DreamWorks Studios plans to tell Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s story on the big screen in a film to be co-produced by Steven Spielberg, the studio announced Tuesday.
The studio describes it as a monumental project - but two of King's children threatened legal action over the film deal because it was brokered without their blessing.
Dreamworks touted the project in a press release as the first theatrical motion picture authorized by the estate using King's intellectual property, including copyrighted speeches and other works, as the basis for the film.
Dexter King, one of the late civil rights leader's sons, said in a press release that he hoped the movie would "be the definitive film" on his father's legacy. Two other King siblings - Bernice King and Martin Luther King III - said they oppose the deal, which they say was brokered by Dexter without their input.
Dexter is the chairman and chief executive officer of King, Inc.
"This is a deal that Mr. Spielberg and his people ... have entered into believing that they have the blessing of The King Estate. They don't have the blessings of Bernice and Martin King," Bernice King told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Tuesday after finding out about the deal in an e-mail from Dexter King.
A spokesman for Dexter King did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
The three siblings have been involved in several legal disputes regarding their parents' intellectual property in the past year. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III have accused their brother of tarnishing their parents' legacy with his business decisions, and say he has been operating The King Estate for years without their input.
Martin Luther King III said the matter was typical of an ongoing pattern of exclusion.
"It's not that we are against a film," he said. "It's very interesting to me that a company would engage in a business arrangement knowing that there's severe controversy around many issues pertaining to the estate of Martin Luther King Jr."
DreamWorks spokeswoman Kristin Stark declined to say how much the deal is worth. It is not clear when the movie might be made. Stark said she did not believe the siblings' legal differences would affect the project.
Although several movies about King's life have been televised, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner has only been on the silver screen once. The documentary, "King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis," was shown once in theatres on March 24, 1970, and featured commentary from Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Ruby Dee, among others.
Film and television producer Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones, a longtime friend of Dexter King who has handled intellectual property issues for the estate for several years, are also listed as producers on the project.
Bernice King said Jones also does not represent her and Martin.
"He has always represented Dexter," she said. "This is about Dexter and Phil and their empire."
In March, Dexter King brokered an intellectual property deal with EMI Music Publishing for his father's words and image. Last month, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III took issue with an $800,000 licensing deal their brother struck with the foundation tasked with building a memorial to their father on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The siblings are still struggling to settle three lawsuits involving their parents' estates, including one attempting to force Dexter King to open the books of their father's estate. Another would determine who should control Coretta Scott King's personal items - some of which were at the centre of a $1.4-million book deal about their mother's life that fell apart last year amid the legal wrangling.