Forest Whitaker is Martin Luther King Jr. in Greengrass' 'Memphis'
United 93 director Paul Greengrass has been trying to make Memphis, a docu-style drama about the final days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., since January of 2011, but when Universal Pictures backed out, the project ended up falling apart. However, late last fall, it sounded like funding was finally coming back together for the project, and now even more progress is being made with a leading man in talks for the pivotal role of MLK. The Wrap reports that Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is in talks for the passion project from Greengrass which is being backed by Veritas Films and French financier Wild Bunch. Read on!
This won't be a traditional biopic in the vein of something like Lincoln, but Greengrass will actually be shooting the film in the same style that he shot United 93, giving it a much more grounded, documentary feel. For those just joining us, the story follows the final days of Dr. King's life as he struggles to balance his personal life and the civil rights movement while he organizes what ends up being his last protest march in Memphis, Tennessee. Simultaneously, the FBI, which had been wiretapping King before his death, leads an intense manhunt for his killer. Sounds like there's the potential for a lot of suspense and drama, and this will be the first time the assassination of MLK has been so prominent in a film.
Supposedly King's family is not too pleased about how Greengrass intends to portray the civil rights leader since the script shows Dr. King depressed about the state of both his marriage and that of war-ravaged and socially-divided America, as well the fear of being marginalized by a new generation of younger black leaders. But for me, that makes the film much more genuine and less fanciful about a leader who has already been immortalized as a hero. This won't make his legacy less significant, and it might strengthen his image as people will see him as a real human and not a mythical, flawless leader. The Kings still have another MLK project happening at DreamWorks, but we're not sure when that will come together.
As for Whitaker's casting, he doesn't seem like the obvious choice, but his talents over the years can't be denied. From his Academy Award winning turn in The Last King of Scotland to films like Phone Booth, Phenomenon, Panic Room and more, Whitaker has proven to be a great character actor who really puts himself into leading roles when given the opportunity. Whitaker will next be seen with an all-star cast in The Butler from director Lee Daniels, and he also produced the Sundance sensation Fruitvale Station from director Ryan Coogler (who we just interviewed at Cannes). Stay tuned for updates.