DreamWorks: King biopic requires unity from family

May 20, 2009 6:21:10 PM PDT
DreamWorks still wants to make a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. "provided that there is unity" among his feuding children, the movie studio said Wednesday. DreamWorks announced a deal this week with The King Estate for a major motion picture about the civil rights icon. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III immediately threatened legal action, saying they were not involved in negotiating it.

King's son, Dexter, oversees the estate and signed off on the deal.

"The purpose of making a movie about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to tell a great story which could bridge distances and bring people together," read the statement provided to The Associated Press by DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan. "We remain committed to pursuing a film chronicling Martin Luther King's life provided that there is unity in the family so we can make a film about unity in our nation. We believe this is what Dr. King would have wanted."

The studio touted the project in a news release as the first big-screen portrayal of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner that would be authorized by the estate and use King's intellectual property, including copyrighted speeches and other works, as the basis for the film. Steven Spielberg was listed as a co-producer.

"I sincerely believe that the film project we have been working on with DreamWorks ... offers an unprecedented opportunity for educating the largest possible audience about our father's legacy as the leader of America's greatest nonviolent movement," Dexter King said in a statement.

He said the DreamWorks biopic could focus on the life and work of his father just as the film "Gandhi" educated people on the teachings of India's political and spiritual leader of non-violent independence from the British.

"I sincerely hope my brother and sister will join us in supporting this urgently needed project," he said.

He said although his communication with family members has "been somewhat stymied by the current litigation," he continues to reach out to them.

Spokesmen for Martin Luther King III and Bernice King were not immediately available to comment on DreamWorks' statement.

Bernice King and King III have accused their brother of tarnishing their parents' legacy with his business decisions, and say he has been operating The King Estate for years without their input.

In March, Dexter King brokered a deal with EMI Music Publishing for his father's words and image. Last month, his siblings took issue with an $800,000 licensing deal their brother struck with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation, which is building a monument to King on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The siblings still haven't settled three lawsuits involving their parents' estates, including one attempting to force Dexter King to open the books of The King Estate. Another would determine who should control Coretta Scott King's personal items - some of which were at the center of a $1.4 million book deal about their mother's life that fell apart last year.

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