Universal Sets Martin Luther King Jr Movie For Chris Rock To Direct & Steven Spielberg Executive Produce; Uni Acquires Jonathan Eig’s ‘King: A Life’

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures is gearing up to tell a definitive cinematic biopic about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The studio has optioned the rights to adapt Jonathan Eig’s critically acclaimed biography King: A Life. Chris Rock is in final talks to direct and produce, and Steven Spielberg will be executive producer.

The film will be produced by Amblin Partners, with Kristie Macosko Krieger serving as producer along with Rock. King: A Life has been a big bestseller, and is nominated for the National Book Award. It has been hailed as a definitive biography of the civil rights icon Dr. King, for its use of previously untapped sources that include newly declassified FBI information. The book sketches out the courageous man who demanded peaceful protests in the segregationist south, all the while grappling with his own frailties and a federal government that haunted his every step instead of treating him like the hero history shows him to be.  

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This is a great opportunity for the talented Rock to put being the recipient of “the Oscar slap” squarely in the rearview mirror. Rock co-stars in the George C. Wolfe-directed Rustin, which stars Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin, the man who organized the 1963 march on Washington, where Dr. King made his iconic “I have a dream” speech that galvanized the battle to desegregate the south. In Rustin, Rock plays the pivotal role of Roy Wilkins, the NAACP leader who reluctantly embraced Rustin’s efforts and made the march possible. That film’s produced by Higher Ground for Netflix.

This is a big step up for Rock in the director’s chair, but he stamped himself as a director with chops with Top Five, which he also wrote and which became the biggest deal at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival where Paramount Pictures bought world rights. Rock also directed Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife.

Rock is a four-time Emmy-award winner and three-time Grammy winner as well as a bestselling author. He is atop the game as a stand-up comedian, and made some history on March 4th with his Netflix standup special, Chris Rock: Selective Outrage, the first to be done in a global live streaming event. His animated series Everybody Still Hates Chris is set to stream globally on Paramount + and Comedy Central, with Rock its EP and narrator.

Universal’s Senior Vice President of Production Development Ryan Jones will oversee the project on behalf of the studio. 

The book deal was brokered by Lucy Stille at Lucy Stille Literary on behalf of the David Black Agency. Eig has written six books, and The Birth of The Pill, Ali: A Life, and Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig have all been optioned and are in active development for film and TV. The PEN Literary Award winner also served as a consulting producer for the PBS series Muhammad Ali, directed by Ken Burns.  

Rock is repped by CAA, Untitled Entertainment, and Yorn Levine Barnes.

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