The film, which is scheduled for release on Christmas Day, stars British actor David Oyelowo as King, and details the pivotal 1965 civil rights clashes in Alabama which ultimately led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Oprah Winfrey served as a producer of the film and also plays a small role in an all-star ensemble, which includes Tom Wilkinson (as President Lyndon Johnson), Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and rapper Common.
“She moved the waters like Moses: She held up her staff, and they parted, and we were able to go through and make the movie,” DuVernay told Yahoo about Winfrey’s involvement in the project.
Despite being portrayed as a peripheral character in films like “The Butler”, MLK has never had a major big screen biopic dedicated solely to his story. This may be surprising considering the fact that other venerable American icons such as Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy have had multiple Hollywood productions made about their lives. Even Malcolm X, arguably a far more polarizing civil rights leader than King, was the subject of a hit Spike Lee film in 1992.
A-list directors have tried before to tell MLK’s story, only to be stymied by the King estate. Most recently, both directors Lee Daniels and Oliver Stone attempted to mount productions about the preacher and activist only the have the films fall apart. Stone had even hoped to cast Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx as MLK, but claimed the King family rejected his script because it alluded to the civil right’s leader’s sexual infidelities.
“I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth.” Stone tweeted in January.
It’s too soon to tell whether DuVernay’s film will be a “warts and all” look at MLK’s legacy, but it looks to be a major player once Hollywood’s award season kicks into high gear.