DreamWorks' MLK Jr. Project has a Writer: Ronald Harwood

Jay A. Fernandez
The Hollywood Reporter
January 19, 2010

Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg’s Martin Luther King Jr. feature project is finally moving forward. The DreamWorks Studios toppers have hired Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (”The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) to pen a biographical screenplay about the slain civil rights leader.

Harwood is a strong choice for the assignment. His script work on “The Dresser,” “Butterfly” and “The Pianist” earned him Oscar nominations, with the last taking the prize. And at 75 years old, the South Africa-born writer lived through the late 1950’s and ’60’s, when King’s oratory and influence inspired a massive civil rights movement until his murder in 1968.

As the studio points out, this is the first film treatment of King to be officially authorized by the King Estate — or a portion of it, at least, since some of the King children balked when the project was announced last year. So Harwood will have access to all the intellectual property King copyrighted during his lifetime, including speeches, books and other works.

“His record of achievements makes him particularly suited to portraying this deeply personal story against the background of such a turbulent time,” said Mark Sourian and Holly Bario, who run production at the studio.

Harwood, who is repped by ICM and Judy Daish in the U.K., also penned a TV movie about Nelson Mandela and adapted the Alan Paton book, “Cry the Beloved Country,” among other film work.

Spielberg, who has directed biographical and historical material in “Schindler’s List,” “Amistad” and “Munich,” is not attached to helm the MLK project. But he is producing along with Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones. Spielberg also has long been developing an Abraham Lincoln biopic.

Americans celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday yesterday. King was born on January 15.