I Have A DreamWorks: Spielberg Gets King Movie Rights : The Two-Way Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG studio has obtained the rights from the estate of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a biographical movie on the civil-rights icon.
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I Have A DreamWorks: Spielberg Gets King Movie Rights

Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG studio has obtained the rights from the estate of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a biographical movie on the civil-rights icon.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr at a 1963 press conference at the Ritz Hotel, London, England. William H. Alden/Evening Standard/Getty Images hide caption

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William H. Alden/Evening Standard/Getty Images

The studio says Spielberg will be joined in producing the biopic by Suzanne de Passe, a long-time Hollywood executive, and Madison Jones, who has produced documentaries on King and Robert F. Kennedy.

Spielberg's participation in this project obviously provides it with the kind of Hollywood titan one would expect for such a monumental undertaking, a major feature film the life of one of the nation's most historic figures.

De Passe is much less known generally but is also a Hollywood figure of some significance. As a writer, she won early praise for her "Lady Sings the Blues" screenplay.

But she made a huge impact, especially as an African American woman, when she optioned the Larry McMurtry novel "Lonesome Dove," then produced the hugely successful television miniseries.

DePasse and Jones also have a connection to President Barack Obama: they co-produced the 2009 Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball, according to the DreamWorks press release.

An excerpt from the press release:

The DreamWorks film will be the first theatrical motion picture to be authorized by The King Estate to utilize the intellectual property of Dr. King to create the definitive portrait of his life.

"In trying to tackle such an ambitious project, the question we had to ask ourselves is, why now? The answer lies in MLK's own words: 'all progress is precarious.' With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us everyday to stand up to hatred and inequality," said Stacey Snider. (Snider is DreamWorks Studios CEO and Co-Chairman.)

"We are all honored that the King Estate is giving us the opportunity to tell the story of these defining, historic events," said Steven Spielberg. "It is our hope that the creative power of film and the impact of Dr. King's life can combine to present a story of undeniable power that we can all be proud of."

"The King Estate is committed to working very closely with Dreamworks, Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones to create the first major motion picture on the life of my father. We hope that this will be the definitive film on his life and legacy," said Dexter King, Chairman and CEO of the King Estate.

Controversy has surrounded the King family for years over their approach to the civil-rights leader's papers which they have jealously guarded. Scholars and even the public have criticized the family for claiming ownership of the papers. Some have said the documents are part of the legacy King left the nation and even the world.

But King family members have long maintained that the slain civil-rights leader left them relatively little money and thus the papers were their inheritance. In 2006, they raised the possibility of auctioning off the papers which might have meant the documents would leave Atlanta, King's hometown. The city raised $32 million to keep the papers local.

King's children have also been at odds over the management of their father's legacy but apparently their squabbling was irrelevant to the movie-rights deal.

The Associated Press reports:

Dexter King's siblings, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, were not involved in negotiating the deal. They did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday from The Associated Press.

The siblings have been involved in several disputes regarding their parents' intellectual property in the past year. Bernice King and Martin Luther 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.

DreamWorks spokeswoman Kristin Stark declined to say how much the deal is worth. It is not clear when the movie might be made.

Stark said she did not believe the siblings' legal differences would affect the project.

"What we have gained access to is the life rights, which is not what they are fighting about," Stark said.