Universal Drops Paul Greengrass' MLK Biopic MEMPHIS

Universal, the same studio who last month nipped in the bud an R-rated, $150 million ambitious horror adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness, to be directed by Guillermo Del Toro, produced by James Cameron and starring Tom Cruise - have just axed Memphis, a political drama about the final days of Martin Luther King Jr that would open with huge publicity on MLK weekend 2012. Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum, United 93) pitched from the ground-up, scripting the personal project that he was to direct and he must be royally pissed right now as this cancellation comes just months on the back of his failed attempt to get a Jimmi Hendrix biopic, starring Anthony Mackie, into production because the legendary rocker's estate weren't happy with the proposed plans. Though we hear there is still hope for Memphis. Mega producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, No Country For Old Men) and Greengrass are to shop the project around town, and surely, a MLK movie to open on his holiday weekend, if Greengrass can still promise it given the time frame, is an exciting prospect for someone? Memphis was to focus on the contentious final days at end of March/early April €™68 as Luther King fights for the Memphis city€™s sanitation workers rights, his fiery relationship with President Johnson over their disagreement on Vietnam, his views on the Black Power Movement and the Working Class and will also delve into his personal life as his chain-smoking habit worsened, his marriage was failing and he was losing himself to unhealthy amounts of booze & food. Deadline say Universal's official reason for cancelling Memphis is from fear they couldn't get camera's rolling in June (indeed, they have no cast set yet) and the movie itself in theatres for next February but Mike Fleming has heard that the MLK estate and Andrew Young, former confidante of the civil rights leader, was less than impressed by how the great Dr. was depicted in Greengrass' screenplay and they threatened to go public about their thoughts on the project, which made the studio nervous enough to cancel it all together. Once again it seems the legacy of the American icons Greengrass is interested in exploring on screen continue to haunt him but in MLK's case he might not be the only one who has suffered. Fleming suggests the Lee Daniels unrealised movie about MLK titled Selma that was to be financed at The Weinsteins, might have been dropped for the same reasons. Indeed we shouldn't forget that the MLK estate is clearly backing a Ronald Harwood (Oscar winning for adapting The Pianist) scripted adaptation that's setup at DreamWorks, having agreed to sell the rights to use Dr. King's copyrighted speeches to them a while ago and they will probably attempt to block any film that isn't that one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk Although I imagine there's also that lingering doubt over Greengrass' ability to deliver a profitable return outside of the Bourne series as Universal clearly won't have forgotten his political Iraqi drama Green Zone bombed with a hideous $35 million domestic taking on a $100 million+ budget despite starring Matt Damon just last year and it probably didn't take much for them to strike a red line through this project. I previously expressed my shock that Universal wanted to make Memphis with Greengrass anyway after he turned down the opportunity to direct Bourne 4, which would have continued Matt Damon in the title role. Of course if Rudin/Greengrass do manage to find another studio, they will likely fall into the same trouble with the MLK estate as Universal did, but if anything, I imagine the controversies of it's historical accuracy, or how it depicts MLK, will help the film with an added buzz and notoriety rather than hinder it. As for whether Greengrass could get a leading man in just a matter of weeks to get this before camera's? Well... surely he's going to use Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker actor he would have used for the Hendrix biopic? Sure he's almost a decade younger than Luther King when we was shot and is noticeably slimmer, but these are small obstacles, one feels.
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.