Now this takes guts. Real guts. Oliver Stone, that pantheon to perfectly realized history (“wink, wink”) is apparently in talks to make another of his patented biopics about another hot button public figure whose as controversial – and rightfully worshipped – today as he was nearly 50 years ago.
No, he’s not making the definitive history of Hubert H. Humphrey or Spiro T. Agnew (Google it, kiddies). Stone apparently wants to tackle the complex legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it is said he has the King Family’s approval, as well as his star all lined up. After working with him on ‘Any Given Sunday,’ the director has asked Jamie Foxx to play the beloved civil rights leader. While nothing is set in concrete, Collider.com is reporting that Dreamworks (the studio behind the project) has a script from Kario Salem which has interested both parties.
Now, in my mind, this raises all kinds of red flags. Let’s start with the basic (and you know it’s coming) argument about a WHITE filmmaker taking on a decidedly African American subject. Spike Lee will surely be apoplectic (he long argued that only directors of color could or should take on subject matter of same). The screenwriter is also white, though his Emmy-winning pedigree proceeds him. Then there is the choice of actor for King. Foxx is fine enough, but he’s really more of a mimic (thus his Oscar for ‘Ray’…and nothing else).
The preacher turned lightning rod for the socially unsettled ’60s has a well established public persona, so it would be a challenge for anyone trying to channel him (just ask Paul Winfield, who played King in a 1978 TV mini-series). And let’s not forget a competing effort from ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘United 93”s Paul Greengrass, though the King Family has frowned upon its warts-and-all approach.
Yet the biggest liability remains Stone and his recent cinematic escapades. The man hasn’t made a legitimately great film since 1995’s ‘Nixon’ (though we will say that ‘W.’ was a gangly, glorious goof). Given that scary track record – ‘U-Turn,’ ‘Alexander,’ ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,’ ‘Savages,’ ‘World Trade Center’ – Dreamworks can only be hoping they get the ‘JFK’ genius and auteur, not the misguided ‘Heaven & Earth’ one.
Granted, King is probably the most predominant and important figure ever to suffer without a serious cinematic overview of his accomplishments. Foxx will probably be fine. Stone, on the other hand, is just not the man for this movie. Who would we choose, you ask? Someone like Steve McQueen (wait until you see ’12 Years a Slave’…).