For years, there have been several big screen attempts to tell the story of Martin Luther King Jr. with filmmakers like Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Lee Daniels (The Butler), and Steven Spielberg all trying various iterations, with Oliver Stone being the most recent failed attempt. But the latest effort sounds the most promising.
Deadline has word that “The Wire” creator David Simon is working with HBO to develop a six-hour miniseries adaptation of America in the King Years, a trilogy of non-fiction books by Taylor Branch. Parting the Waters spans 1954-1963, Pillar of Fire covers 1963-1965 and At Canaan’s Edge finishes the story with 1965-1968.
The miniseries would chronicle the Civil Rights activism of King along with his historic relationships with Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, not to mention events in Birmingham and Selma and – of course – the march on Washington that was being put together when King was assassinated in Memphis.
As of now, Simon is supposed to write at least the first episode and also “the bible” for the entire miniseries (which will probably just be a very detailed treatment). The “Treme” creator will also oversee the whole series with the Louisiana series co-creator Eric Overmyer. In addition, the project has some more heavy hitters behind it because Oprah Winfrey and her Harpo production banner have decided to produce the miniseries.
This has the potential to be the most comprehensive telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historical exploits yet. It’s mind-blowing that there hasn’t yet been a revered film about this influential man, but HBO sounds like the perfect place to make it finally work. That doesn’t mean we won’t get any feature films as well (Oprah Winfrey is producing a new one), but it might slow some of them down a bit.
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most iconic people of the 20th century, and it will be interesting to see who Simon rounds up to bring him to life. Will HBO go with a recognizable talent, or will someone lesser known step up to the plate for a breakthrough performance? Stay tuned as this project develops.
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