By Tambay A. Obenson
shadow and act
Ava DuVernay is taking over directing duties of the Martin Luther King Jr feature project that Lee Daniels was once originally attached to helm, but faced a financing wall, and moved on to other projects.
Deadline reports that David Oyelowo, who was to star in Daniels’ project, will stay onboard to play MLK, reuniting with DuVernay (he co-starred in her 2012 acclaimed sophomore effort, Middle Of Nowhere).
Titled Selma, DuVernay was brought onboard to direct the project by Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and producer Christian Colson, who were impressed by her last effort, Middle Of Nowhere.
The feature drama centers on the 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement.
DuVernay has reportedly already began scouting locations, and is working over the script with screenwriter Paul Webb, with production aimed to begin sooner than later, given the competition in the form of several other MLK projects, on the horizon.
Daniels’ Selma was reportedly held up because family and close friends of the King estate didn’t approve of the project, which would have highlighted some of King’s vices. No word on whether there’s been a shift, whether in the script, or the attitudes towards it.
Four years ago, here’s how Daniels described what was then a much-buzzed about script, that was said to focus on the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr and Lyndon B. Johnson:
“It’s a moment in time in Martin Luther King and LBJ’s (life) around the signing of the Civil Rights. It’s a snapshot of the march. It’s really Lyndon Johnson’s story. Martin Luther King is a part of it, but it’s really the arc of a man that starts out as a racist who is forced to look at himself in the mirror and then ultimately side with King. It’s really a journey of a white cat and how he sneers at tradition and against George Wallace, against everybody, says, ‘Uh-uh.’”
Now we wait in anticipation to learn what/whose story DuVernay’s polished script will tell. A lot, I’m sure, has changed in four years.
Regardless, this should be a nice budget-bump for DuVernay to play with, after directing two low-budget indies in I Will Follow and the aforementioned Middle Of Nowhere.
In addition to Oyelowo, the cast of Daniels’ Selma also included Lenny Kravitz (as civil rights activist Andrew Young), Cedric The Entertainer (as Ralph Abernathy), Hugh Jackman (as racist Selma sheriff Jim Clark), and Liam Neeson (as President Lyndon Baines Johnson).
No word yet on whether they’re still attached.
I should also note, in closing, that it was last summer when Lee Daniels, apparently unable to get Selma off the ground, switched gears, still staying on the MLK course, but this time teaming with Hugh Jackman (who was also attached to Selma), to take on Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in a new film that would reportedly explore an “unconventional view of King’s murder.”
To be titled Orders To Kill, the film was to tell an alternative version of the MLK shooting, with Daniels directing of course, and Jackman starring.
The film will tell the story of William Pepper (Jackman), a controversial attorney and activist who for decades has argued that convicted killer James Earl Ray, who recanted his confession and died arguing his innocence, didn’t shoot MLK. The picture will follow Pepper over the years as he wages a one-man campaign, interviewing witnesses and building support for his theory that other interests, including those from the U.S. government, were behind the 1968 Memphis killing. (In a nutshell, Pepper, who is still alive, argues that government interests wanted King dead because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.)
The film will be based on William Pepper’s book of the same name, which has already been adapted to screenplay format, and is apparently ready to be shot, with Millennium Films producing and finance the film.
Last we checked, the project was being shopped around to distributors in Hollywood. No word on whether it’s still alive.
Unlike Daniels’ Selma (which was reportedly held up because family and close friends of the King estate didn’t approve of the project, which would have highlighted some of King’s vices), this project was said to have the support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s son Dexter King, who himself believes Pepper’s story about who was really behind his father’s murder.
There are at least five film projects in the works based on either the life of MLK, or some significant period during his 39 years on this planet. With producers of Selma seemingly anxious to get it in front of audiences, this (DuVernay’s) just might be the first one at the finish line.
An obvious next question is whether DP extraordinaire Bradford Young will be brought along for the ride.
Also, keep in mind that Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company is behind Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave as well.