An update on King projects

Stars in place for play ‘Mountaintop’; movies, miniseries developing

A 25th anniversary traditionally is commemorated with something made out of silver, perhaps featuring a nice engraving.

But what do you get a national holiday celebrating its big milestone?

How about a $120 million memorial?

More than 15 years in the making, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington will officially be dedicated on Aug. 28. That’s barely seven months after Monday’s annual federal holiday honoring King — the 25th anniversary of the first nationwide commemoration of the slain civil rights leader’s birthday, according to the King Center in Atlanta.

The timing is perfect in more ways than one, according to a top memorial official.

“With it being the 25th year since the holiday began, it’s emphasizing the importance that this [the memorial] is really happening, too,” Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Foundation, said by phone last week.

“Also, the times in which we’re living — we’re fighting two wars and there’s still poverty all around, and that’s what Dr. King was talking about. When we talk about this memorial, we’re talking the importance of love, courage, justice and hope.”

The memorial on the National Mall will feature a 28-foot-tall sculpture of King. But that’s not the only place that creative representations of the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Atlanta will start showing up in the coming months and years.

Here’s an update on several projects, details of which are largely being closely guarded:

● “The Mountaintop”: Last spring’s major upset winner of best new play at the Olivier Awards (England’s equivalent of the Tonys), the drama will open on Broadway in the fall. Written by Memphis playwright-actress Katori Hall, “The Mountaintop” is set at the Lorraine Motel on the night before King’s assassination.

No theater or opening date has been announced yet, but the production will have Atlanta written all over it. Directed by True Colors Theatre founder Kenny Leon, it will co-star Morehouse graduate Samuel L. Jackson and Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. Leon recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he expected rehearsals to begin in August, with previews starting in September.

● The DreamWorks movie: The May 2009 announcement that Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studio had acquired King’s “life rights” for a biographical film caused plenty of excitement — not least among his children, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Bernice King, who claimed their brother, Dexter King, had negotiated the deal without their knowledge.

A lawsuit among the siblings was later resolved; since last January, the task of muscling King’s larger-than-life story into a script has been in the hands of renowned South African playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (an Oscar nominee for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and a winner for “The Pianist”).

No director or cast announcements have been made yet. And no word on when — or where, possibly in Atlanta — filming might start.

“The Martin Luther King movie is on our development schedule for the future,” said DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy. “It’s too early to say anything more about it at this time.”

● “Selma,” the movie: Another planned movie, this one about King’s campaign to convince President Lyndon Johnson to enact the Voting Rights Act and the dramatic marches on Selma, Ala., that called attention to it. (The first, on the day that would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” was led by two of King’s Atlanta-based colleagues, Hosea Williams and current U.S. Rep. John Lewis.)

Shooting was originally set to begin last summer, under the helm of “Precious” director Lee Daniels. Funding came together more slowly than expected, but the website Deadline.com reported last month that the Hollywood powerhouse Weinstein Co. was close to coming on board as the film’s distributor.

Still, production may be put off until Daniels completes another movie, “The Butler,” starring Denzel Washington.

● The Oprah miniseries: Announced last May as part of Oprah Winfrey’s new production deal with HBO, her Harpo Films is producing a seven-hour miniseries on King’s life.

It will be based on historian Taylor Branch’s award-winning King trilogy, “Parting the Waters,” “Pillar of Fire” and “At Canaan’s Edge.” Beyond that, no one’s saying much at all.

“I have no information to report at this time,” an HBO spokesman said by e-mail last week.