*DreamWorks’ untitled biopic about Martin Luther King is finally picking up steam.
Kario Salem, best known for writing the 2001 Robert De Niro-Edward Norton drama “The Score,” is in negotiations to write the project, which also sees Warner Bros. coming on board to co-finance and to distribute with Disney’s Touchstone label. (Disney is also where DreamWorks is housed.)
DreamWorks acquired King’s life rights in May 2009 with the full blessing of the King estate. The studio also has access to King’s intellectual property, including his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Warners, meanwhile, had been working on its biopic for several years and had a Salem script in deep development. Salem is said to have done three-and-a-half years’ worth of research and interviews when writing his screenplay.
But while the DreamWorks and Warners efforts were more or less under the radar, competing projects began making a lot of noise.
“Precious” director Lee Daniels has been trying to raise financing for his take on the 1960s marches in Selma, Ala., and he has David Oyelowo attached to play King. Universal, meanwhile, was planning to finance and distribute “Memphis,” a look at MLK’s final days, to be directed by Paul Greengrass.
But those projects are having a tough time making it to the screen. Universal backed out of “Memphis” less than a month ago, leaving Greengrass to seek funds independently.
One major reason for the hurdles, according to sources, is the disapproval of the MLK estate, which is not afraid to exert pressure to stall projects it deems as unflattering to the civil rights leader.
In recent weeks, both DreamWorks and Warners realized that one project had the thumbs-up of the estate and the other was backed by years of research, meaning a team-up would best tell the MLK tale. Salem will now write a new script with the estate’s backing. Three members of the King family — Dexter, Bernice and Martin Luther King II — are acting as executive producers.