It’s been fifty-years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated leaving an unfulfilled dream, a blueprint for humanity, a turbulent country, and a furious race of people behind. In these past five decades, Dr. King has been immortalized; hoisted up as an almost mythical being – a martyr of the Civil Right’s Movement. Though history has painted Dr. King in a certain light, his closest friends and allies haven’t forgotten the last few years of his life – years that were full of confliction and uncertainty.
In his searing HBO film, King in the Wilderness director Peter Kunhardt chronicles the last few years of the Civil Right’s pioneer’s life – a time where even his beliefs and doctrine toward peace and non-violence were tested. A week before the film’s premiere I chatted with novelist, screenwriter, and professor Trey Ellis who served as an executive producer and interviewer for the project. For Ellis, it was essential to look back at Dr. King’s life and legacy through the memories of those who stood by his side day after day. King in the Wilderness gives an alternative view of a man who stood in the midst of an increasingly unstable country, rallying for the end of racism, war, and poverty.
Ellis had been yearning for a project on Dr. King’s life for some time, so when he heard that Kuhardt was putting something together at HBO, he jumped at the chance to get involved. “I talked to HBO a long time ago, but then around January of 2017 Peter approached me about this new take on Dr. King to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his assassination,” Ellis explained. “We all decided that the later King, King in the Wilderness was the least told and also the most important for what we’re going through today. So I was really excited, to come on board to do most of the interviews. Taylor (Branch) interviewed Harry Belafonte, Andy Young, and Reverend C.T. Vivian and I had the pleasure of interviewing the rest of them. We spent a year traveling around the country talking to real-life heroes for two to four hours at a time. Some of them were heroes that I knew, like John Lewis, or Jesse Jackson and others like Cleveland Sellers or Bernard Lafayette were people that I’d never heard of before, but once I got to speak with them, I was just so amazed by their strength.”
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