April 4 is a sad anniversary in history, as it marks the day in 1968 that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King was just 39 years old, but had already carved his name in history for his heroic leadership during the Civil Rights Era.
Planning is underway for a new film, Selma, being produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt. The film is an MLK biopic set against the historic civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. British actor David Oyelowo has been tapped to play King, and Tom Wilkinson is apparently onboard to play President Lyndon B. Johnson.
We’re sure Oyelowo will do a great job in this larger-than-life role. But with so many talented actors in Hollywood, we can’t help but envision others playing MLK. Here are just a few of our suggestions should Oyelowo back out of the job:
1. Samuel L. Jackson: Forget Snakes on a Plane. Jackson has proved his dramatic talents in such serious films as The Red Violin, Mother and Child and Django Unchained. Plus he has an historic connection: Jackson was an usher at King’s funeral in Atlanta.
2. Denzel Washington: Given his early roles as anti-Apartheid martyr Steven Biko in Cry Freedom, a black Union soldier in Glory, and even going so far as to play Malcolm X in the self-titled film, stepping into the role of King seems natural for Washington.
3. Mekhi Phifer: We could see Phifer, with his diverse filmography in movies and television, evolving as Dr. King through the years and sensitively portraying him as preacher, husband and father and charismatic leader.
4. Forest Whitaker: Whitaker may have won an Oscar for portraying one of the 20th century’s great despots, Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, but with his versatility as an actor means he could play King with great empathy and humanity.
5. Jeffrey Wright: Stage and screen veteran Wright has already portrayed King in 2001’s Boycott. Known for his talent in serious dramatic roles, we think he’d play a complicated, conflicted King wrestling with inner demons while trying to be a leader at the same time.
6. Will Smith: Right, we normally think of Will Smith in either comic or action-adventure roles, and most often with a raygun in his hand. But we’d love to see Smith get the chance to prove his acting abilities in a King biopic.
7. Jamie Foxx: Despite his early days as a stand-up comic, Foxx has proven his dramatic chops in such roles as Ray Charles in Ray, for which he won an Academy Award, and Dreamgirls, and could convincingly play Dr. King.
8. Laurence Fishburne: Emmy and Tony award winner and Academy Award nominee Fishburne possesses the gravitas and credibility to play King as a leader on the world stage…minus those Morpheus sunglasses, though.