Portraying Dr. King

KingMuch critical ink has been spilled, and deservedly so, on the merits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a writer. King was a master of the language, and indeed his use of the written and spoken word created the center of his power as a leader, and preserved his image as an icon. [I wrote about this last year on this day]. And of course, King’s image is manifest throughout the documentary arts – in spoken word recreation of his speeches, on television. But what of Dr. King as a character, as a figure worthy of potrayal?

Not much, at least that I know of. The main vehicle was Paul Winfield’s 1978 miniseries portrayal in King, which I saw in reruns on TBS a few years back. Cicely Tyson played Coretta Scott King, Ossie Davis was the senior Rev. King, veteran TV actor Cliff DeYoung was Bobby Kennedy, Heat of the Night‘s Howard Rollins portrayed Andrew Young, and Tony Bennett played himself. But I wonder, where are the other King docudramas and feature films? Has he grown too iconic to portray? Or too sainted of memory to be interesting to filmmakers? Nearly three decades after his death, is it time for a major project?

Comments 4

  • […] Why hasn’t there been a Martin Luther King biopic as good as Malcolm X? (The last substantial treatment was a ‘78 miniseries.) […]

  • Tom, I think you may be correct about King being too iconic to portray. It is surprising that there hasn’t been more movies or television programs created about him.

  • The King estate has a whole bunch of stipulations on use of his image and materials. Makes it very difficult for writers to work with, unfortunately.

  • Oops. I forgot to mention that Dr. King put a copyright on most of his work while he was still alive. It’s not in the public domain, for the most part. Another reason that more movies, etc. aren’t made about him.