MLK the Movie

About MLK — The Movie

Current Length: 207 Pages
Movie Length Projection: 3 hours, 27 minutes (including intermission)

Genre/Status:  Biography, Drama/3rd Draft, intended as a Gift to the King Center in Atlanta, for them to find producers for a film should they hopefully choose…

Potential Audience:  All who love movies, biographies, Civil Rights, beautiful oratory, folk/protest/spiritual songs, history; who care about the great Martin Luther King, his legacy, Coretta Scott King and the next generation of Kings, Dreams, and Freedom…

Potential Budget:  High (must be done with the best and highest in film quality/music/art. The writer’s opinion is that anachronistic music should be avoided in favor of wonderful period work from pre-April 8, 1968 epoch—although prior to end credits a 2017 image is called for which could invite a new song)

Locations:  Atlanta/Albany—Georgia, Birmingham/Montgomery—Alabama, Ghana, India, New York, Watts/Los Angeles—California, courtroom interiors/exteriors, Church interiors/exteriors, Parsonages/Homes, Washington D.C. mall, Lincoln/Washington Memorials, MLK Memorial, St. Augustine/Florida, Mississippi, Department store interiors/exteriors, bus interiors, airplane

Main Characters:  1. Martin Luther King Jr. (20s/30s), 5’7” African American, handsome, amazing southern speaking voice/preacher’s voice range low to high; 2. Coretta Scott King (20s/30s), 5’7” African American woman, pretty, singer, soprano voice, elegant; 3. Ralph Abernathy (20s/30s), African American, sense of humor, is Martin’s right-hand man; 4. “Freedom Songs” would be the fourth main character, carefully curated

Other Players: Fred Shuttlesworth (30s), Andy Young (30s), the King children, Daddy and Mrs. King (Martin’s parents), JFK, RFK, lots of white cops and officials, lots of black protesters of all ages, white protesters of all ages, church-goers, civil rights activists/martyrs and their families

Motive for Writing the Work:
I wanted to fill the hole in my DVD collection.  We have the great Gandhi (1982, Attenborough) but no such epic for Martin, and I aimed to help change that.

A gifted black minister from Atlanta, Georgia leads the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s with his education, voice, determination and willingness to apply Christian and Gandhian methods on nonviolent protest.

Possible Tagline:
The lie must die for the Dream of Freedom to reign…


Synopsis and Notes:

The script starts with an excerpt from a poem by Margaret Walker, “For My People”—words superimposed over a Mississippi River sunrise.

Published in 1942, the excerpt lays out Martin’s challenge: to break free, rise up, to garner courage and change the “Negro” plight.

The action in the story starts with a flashback to 1935, when a five-year old Martin Luther King Jr follows his father (“Daddy King”/MLK Sr) around town.

Jim Crow Atlanta bears its racist teeth, Martin’s dad is discriminated against roughly, and Martin Jr takes his mental notes.


We jump next to September 1, 1955: Montgomery, Alabama and the optimistic-but-wary-of-Jim-Crow-South move-in by Martin and his wife Coretta Scott King.

They express concern at their move back to the South after successful educational jaunts to the North, but dance and pray their way to optimism.

So begins the first part of the script, one that follows Martin’s Stride Toward Freedom—in some spots verbatim.

I invented some transitions, and many interactions between Martin and Coretta.  I tried to let go and feel it, tried to write scenes and dialogue using everything I know about this great couple.

The moment family, friends or insiders need to correct a scene, I will yield.  The hardest part in writing family scenes was to guess which in-laws would be home, who would be where, saying what… But I go with my best flow, with what I know, and with what makes the story go!!


The first half of the film is Montgomery.  This could have always been its own full length GREAT movie.  But I did not want that, so kept pressing on in part two—after an “intermission…” (I wanted my epic!)


Part Two goes hard, is action-action-action and never stops until the Dream defeats the evil of murder—Coretta, the kids, Harry Belafonte and Reverend Abernathy leading the charge in Memphis just days after the devil thought he had a win by stifling the physical presence of civil rights’ greatest hero.

Martin’s autobiography, edited by the magnificent Dr. Clayborne Carson, shines as a beacon, as I go scene by scene through the guts of the civil rights struggle.

Martin at the helm, a trip to Africa, the publishing of a great book—and a horrible near death experience at Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem one day in 1958.

We pause there, as we should. I cast a little suspicion at the FBI, as we should.  The woman who tried to kill Martin was in line, lock and step, with the FBI’s hatred of the big civil rights duo: MLK and the NAACP.


But Martin survives, and with a new lease—heads off to India!!  (A trip put off a long time, as Martin reflects on being invited by Indian Prime Minister Nehru years prior.)

There in India many things happen, but my Favorite, and what seemed to me (forgive me) an OSCAR moment:

I place Coretta and Martin on that glorious Indian coast just as Martin describes it, right at sunset, as the moon replaces the fiery golden ball dropping into the west’s eager waves.

They hang out in that golden mist, share a Song, one of Martin’s favorites…


Then, back to the fray, and fully recovered from that book-signing insanity…

I depict integrating Little Rock, the dawn of the sit-in movement from Greensboro to Nashville to all over the South.

The freedom rides, one ending in flames and abuse.

Arrests in Atlanta, interaction with John F. Kennedy, and off to struggle for Albany, Georgia.

All, it seems in some ways, practice for the great climactic struggle in Birmingham.


The glory to me, as we see events we all know dramatized on screen will be:

MY USE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING VOICE-OVER/narration.  (The actor chosen for Martin must have a great voice, a singer’s voice, a preacher’s voice.)

It is my opinion that I myself can do Martin.  Try me sometime.  If I can do Martin, someone else can do him; the voice must be perfect.

Coretta gets in some narration herself, her two books very helpful to fill in some of the wife/mother’s perspective.

Ralph Abernathy’s book was helpful in spots, but I do not condone his looseness with regard to social life; seemed gossipy and not my bag.

But he was there when Martin was immorally murdered by what seems to me a typically diabolical CIA covert operation.

Four peace-loving American leaders were killed for opposing Vietnam: JFK, MLK, RFK and John Lennon in 1980.

And what was Vietnam?

Vietnam was CIA’s little pet project.  I will not judge those people, those who engage in war, and kill those who oppose war.  But I hope anyone reading this, my script, or endeavoring to produce my script into a glorious epic movie will pause now to pray for those who turn to weapons of war, murder—then call it all “national defense.”  Those are the strays in the flock, and we must love them, even as they err.

We must love the devil out of them.


I have a couple “signatures” in this movie script; one of them is to spend time with Martin’s beautiful eulogy of John F. Kennedy.

Being a Kennedy assassination buff, and someone totally offended by the CIA takeover of our government in 1963: it was really hard to press on with my script after Kennedy is killed.

And Martin helped me through it.  I needed his words to go on, as did much of the country when that surreal tragedy happened.

During that eulogy, narrated by Martin himself, I write-in images of the evil that killed JFK.

Of course I depict the CIA emblem at Langley, Virginia.

There is a producer and/or director who might have a problem with such an image, and pointing so obviously at CIA, but I wrote it anyway.

Which is to say I stand up against Covert Action, the CIA covert branch, and any national “secrets.”  Discretion is fine, but secrets are sick. And un-democratic.

There are other moments I risked placing a signature on the piece, but the CIA reference is the most obvious one.


Before Kennedy is killed, though, Martin shares his dream.

The fun as a screenwriter here, is how to surprise the audience, when they think they know what’s going to happen next.

So instead of just having Martin do the speech, I take it away at the moment of the give. I had saved a piece of history and unleashed it right at the moment of the Dream speech:

Governor Wallace in that University of Alabama administration office building doorway.

I write-in a montage of integrating the University of Alabama and other past abuses right as Martin is about to speak, then go in with “full-throttle Martin” once his scripted speech is dropped in favor of the “I Have a Dream” riff.

Please read that section and enjoy!!  (starting on page 154)


Then the young girls are horribly bombed in Birmingham.  Kennedy is killed.  And I almost stopped writing, so sad and uncertain if Martin could bring us through all that.

But he does.

He marches from grief back to the civil rights trail: Florida, Mississippi, the White House.

Mississippi still has ghosts; stories of so many fallen in a dark second civil war taking its horrible casualties en route to Freedom’s taunting light.

Medgar Evers is remembered. Emmett Till is remembered.  Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.  So many nameless; the violence senseless.  The illness of racism in full effect in a state infested with the old white guard in charge of all political decisions.

Martin, the SCLC and other groups infiltrate this corruption, turn heads at the Atlantic City DNC in 1964.


A civil rights bill is signed, and Martin at the age of thirty-five wins the Nobel Prize for Peace.

His speech is a prize in and of itself for the audience, one of eloquence, beauty and truth—as he re-commits to the cause of civil rights not won with any award, but re-focused.

Coretta tells her own story of the award and what it meant to she and Martin.


Selma, Selma, Selma! We go there next, hit fine points, an excerpt of another great MLK speech, and offer another Coretta perspective, as she recounts the Langston Hughes poem she gave the marching crowd one night.


Next: Watts/Los Angeles gets hit, and Martin comes out west to talk non-violence.


And then finally we begin the long build-up that ends in tragedy.

We see Martin at home with the children; a rare thing at times, but I use Coretta’s accounts of some truly sweet games played between father and children.

This contrasts to what is ahead:

Martin’s super-strong and informed rejection of all war, and of the American CIA-conceived Vietnam conflict in specific.

The day he fully attacked the American government’s position in Southeast Asia in 1967, Martin became not just a target of violence to the racist South, but to the covert operators of the CIA, the FBI already tailing and taping MLK from 1963 until his tragic murder in 1968.


More family, more love, more humanity brings Martin to games at home and strikes for justice in American cities.

Memphis is plagued by violence one day in March of ‘68, so Martin regroups with Coretta and his core at home; heads back for protest and a mass meeting on April 3rd, 1968, issues his now-famous and obviously prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech in front of a grateful, raucous crowd ready for non-violent protest and its usual hard-fought success.

Then tragedy.  As told by friend and confidant, Reverend Ralph Abernathy:

Martin is shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  By a certainly confused, unseen militant probably at the orders of a conspiracy to continue the criminal Vietnam lie.


What follows is a series of flashbacks while Martin lies mortally wounded, Ralph attending along with other friends of the movement and the man:

Jesse Jackson, Bernard Lee, Andy Young…


Mixed against that horrible present moment are tender pieces of Martin’s past passing before his thirty-nine year old eyes, so handsome, vibrant, talented and driven:

At five his mom gives him the talk all black children of the south seemed to get by parents that cared, who tell their children that “you are as good as anyone.”

Flashing back and forward between Martin’s past and his tragic physical present, Martin wins the Georgia Oratory Contest prize in 1944, at fifteen showing the speaking skills of a genius.

Riding home on the bus from Dublin to Atlanta, he is asked to give up his seat for a white passenger. Anger drives him to further study, to college, to meeting the beautiful, talented, interesting music student, Coretta Scott.

They meet, and Coretta tells us what it was like.

Then back to Ralph struggling to comfort and be there for his dying friend.

Martin takes a photo of his future wife while courting her in Boston.


Martin’s body is replaced with the glorious spirit that soars in his loved ones and fans.

He did what God wanted him to do, and let us sing his song in eternal gratitude for the greatest speaking voice that has ever been recorded by man.

“I have a Dream!” echoes now and forever, rips through the theater rows as Coretta leads her children, Harry Belafonte, John Lewis and thousands of other believers in change down the Memphis boulevard to Freedom just days after tragic loss.

Bernice, Martin’s youngest—not there in Memphis marching that day (only five years old), is sure there to connect tenderly with her father’s memory at the MLK Memorial in Washington D.C. just months ago (8-28-2017) to mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

And the Dream continues…

—Bill Watkins

MLK -- March on Washington

MLK Tease