On Friday, Deadline's Mike Fleming reported that Universal had deep-sixed a Scott Rudin produced and Paul Greengrass scripted & directed Martin Luther King Jr biopic titled Memphis because of pressures from the family's estate over 'factual inaccuracies' raised by Andrew Young, a former confidante of the civil rights leader who put the pressure on the studio and who is pictured alongside MLK above. In what is without doubt one of the best articles I've ever read about the collapse of a major film biopic, Fleming posted last night excerpts from a discussion he has had with Young who confirms that "he did indeed contact Universal and objected to a Memphis script draft that, among other things, depicted marital infidelity in Dr. King's final days. Young said he also refuted a depiction of himself securing a hotel room for a young woman who had accompanied King's brother to Memphis". The official word from Universal remains that it was 'scheduling' and 'timing' that killed the movie, with the studio unsure they could hit the MLK weekend next February with filming not scheduled until June but Fleming is adamant that it was the pressures of Young that forced Universal's hands, worried about the negative press that could hit the project if Young followed through with his media-frenzied threats. Young also told Fleming that he raised similar objections about Selma, a separate biopic of MLK that mentioned the great Dr's infidelity which was being developed by Precious director Lee Daniels with financial backing from The Weinsteins which has curiously struggled for years in development hell, perhaps for the same reasoning? Unlike Greengrass' biopic which looked exclusively at the final days of Martin Luther King Jr's life (we talked about it in depth here), Daniels' biopic explored his march to the steps of the State Capital Building in Montgommery after law enforcement officials attacked demonstators for equal voting rights some weeks earlier.
"They didn't even identify the woman who started that march, Amelia Boynton, who was beaten on the bridge and left for dead on Bloody Sunday," Young told me. "You want to talk about a role for Oprah, there it is. They said, 'We have our script,' and I said, 'No, you don't.' They call it poetic license, but I told them it doesn't make sense to take poetic license when the real story is more powerful."
Fleming writes that he has read Greengrass' 'powerful' script for Memphis and says;
In my opinion, the film isn't a biopic as much as a depiction of Dr. King's final days as he struggled to organize a protest march on behalf of striking black municipal sanitation workers. That is juxtaposed with an intense manhunt for King's assassin James Earl Ray, involving some of the federal authorities who, at Hoover's direction, had dogged King's every step with wiretaps and whispering campaigns before the civil rights leader's death. Greengrass's script is powerful stuff, and by the end, honors King's struggle and ultimate sacrifice. But infidelity -- which comes up in any Internet search on Dr. King -- is in the script.
But Young wants something that; "pines for someone to do for King what Richard Attenborough did for Gandhi" and didn't appreciate the inaccuracies or attempts at scandal;
"I thought it was fiction... There is testimony in congressional hearings that a lot of that information was manufactured by the FBI and wasn't true. The FBI testified to that. I was saying simply, why make up a story when the true story is so great? My only concern here is honoring the message of Martin Luther King's life, and how you can change the world without killing anybody. You've seen glimpses of that in the fall of the Berlin Wall, in Poland, South Africa, in a movement in Egypt that began with prayers, where even mercenaries and the most brutal soldiers have trouble shooting someone on their knees. These regimes crumbled before non-violent demonstrations, and that is a message the world needs."
Young mentions that he offered his services to tell them the facts as a script adviser to the project, for free, but has not been taken up on his offer by either projects...
I said I would pay my own way to LA to sit with the writers, tell what really went on, and give them names, but nobody took me up on it.
What Young wants I don't think he's ever going to be fortunate enough to get and that's a Gandhi-esque, 100% positive depiction of such a huge political figure of American history. Just not going to happen, and for as long as he lives he's going to have to fight projects like these. Meanwhile Greengrass and Rudin will pick up the pieces and attempt to get the film made elsewhere.