Oliver Stone & Michael Arceneaux Miss the Mark on MLK Movie

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402It was announced this week that Oliver Stone‘s Martin Luther King Jr. movie was scrapped because the King family didn’t approve. Apparently, they didn’t like the idea of including anything alluding to his alleged infidelity in the first big screen adaptation of his life. And they’re right.

Stone, not one to hold his tongue, shared his opinion on the decision on his Twitter page, stating:

“The script dealt w/ issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being”

“Martin, I grieve for you. You are still a great inspiration for your fellow Americans—but, thank God, not a saint.”

And he is right … in a sense. Nobody is perfect. We all have our flaws and make mistakes. But should we see the “underbelly” of the civil rights movement, with deceit, backroom deals, and politicking just because it’s riveting? Should we cherry-pick storylines so that audiences can feel the highs and lows of a soap-opera-like protagonist? Should someone as iconic as Martin Luther King Jr. have his rumored transgressions be sensationalized on the big screen?

No. Hell to the no.

Michael Arceneaux wrote about his thoughts regarding Oliver Stone and this movie over at NewsOne, and he took a pretty subdued stance:

“If anything, this lends credence to the belief that the King family is more in to the idea of painting King as nothing more than a martyr than what he was: A great man with some nominal level of flaws — you know, like lots of other human beings.”

Is he for real? We are talking about the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Movement. This is a man who inspired a nation – and others posthumously – to make radical change in the fight for equality but was killed before he could see the fruits of his labor. Now that his family doesn’t want that legacy to be forever tarnished by a big screen production immortalizing a rumor, it’s a strike against them?

Miss me with that.

The King family is doing exactly what they should be doing: protecting their patriarch and his legacy. The main reason Stone has been saying he wanted to include infidelity was to “humanize” the figure. But, are you that poor of a storyteller and producer that you can’t humanize a character without using sex? Is the use of intrigue and backstabbing your only means for creating conflict? King lived a rich and full life, with a plethora of accomplishments, setbacks, and challenges. To go the “shock and awe” route is just lazy. And to give any validity to the notion that the King family is wrong for their actions in this instance is despicable to say the least.

Put it this way, when there are big budget films depicting early American settlers as genocidal maniacs and virtually every American president as a political beast likely nurturing an addiction to money, alcohol, or women, then we can start to “humanize” King. No one is saying he was a saint but given that many people in the mainstream have no clue who he is or what he did for this country and the larger world, is it really fair to countervail his accomplishments in his 90 to 120 minute reveal?

A Martin Luther King Jr. movie is a well-deserved no-brainer, and Selma“, another MLK biopic helmed by Ava DuVernay, still stands a good chance of being completed. King’s story takes place at such a powerful time and includes such interesting characters that getting this movie to the silver screen should take little to no effort. And moviegoers will show up in droves to see it. Let’s just hope that they focus on honoring the man instead of creating controversy.

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.

5 Responses

  1. GreenInOC says:

    I so disagree with you on this.

    People are people and NONE of us are perfect. It’s okay to learn and understand that our heroes made mistakes, that they weren’t perfect in every way. Without knowing this we think we can’t make a difference, we can’t do something because we aren’t perfect. Without insisting on this, we continue to perpetuate the lies of our nation.

    “One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner…and simply remember the things we regard as credible and inspiring. The difficulty. Of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.” -W.E.B. Du Bois

    I was an adult when I picked up “Lies My Teacher Told Me” which then spurred me on to read and devour more. It was years later that I was in a Peace Studies class where the “underbelly” of the Civil Rights Movement was being discussed – it was actually a discussion about the truth of the adoption of non-violence in the movement. It was during that lecture that I first heard the name Bayard Rustin. Why did it take that long to hear about him? Was it because we need to badly to heroize? By doing so, we leave out the truth and that is not acceptable.

  2. Dionne says:

    Well said. *googles Bayard Rustin

  3. Dionne says:

    Great piece Jenn! I often think of patriots as revisionists! This post has expanded my perspective.

  4. Dionne says:


  5. Shawna says:

    Well, Hollywood did give us Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter….they’re pretty twisted.