Being Martin Luther King Day weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to observe by going to see “MLK!” at the theater in the mall, because I could also go to all the MLK Day sales. I was very happy with the deals I got but, as a white person, I was highly embarrassed by the movie.
Moviemakers always alter some facts when making a film “based on a true story”, but I think updating the “MLK!” story to be about gay rights instead of civil rights was a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with being gay but black people are sort of sensitive about that stuff. Jesse Jackson is still pissed about gay people co-opting the rainbow from his “Rainbow Coalition”. Gay people have been persecuted for sure, but that is nothing compared to what black people have gone through. What is next, a movie about President Lincoln, portraying him freeing the sex slaves?
There were other modifications of history that were uncomfortable. Changing Reverend King’s catch phrase from “I have a dream” to “I want to recruit you” was just uncalled for. And why would a film called “MLK!”, about Martin Luther King, have the main character referred to as “Harvey”? Was it because they needed to get around the fact that the real MLK wasn’t gay? Why “Harvey”? “Martin” sounds more gay than “Harvey”? Oh wait: Harvey Fierstein. I get it.
Still, that’s not the most egregious reality warp here. Sean Penn is a very fine actor; but he’s white. Really white. Having him portray a black leader seems especially offensive at a time when we are about to inaugurate our first pretty-much black president. What? Was Denzel Washington busy? What about Samuel L. Jackson or Eddie Murphy?
About the only thing in the movie that paralleled Dr. King’s real life was that this “Harvey” guy gets shot and that’s NOT really the most significant accomplishment of King’s life. He is a very important person in America. If you forget about the monumental historical refabrications, “MLK!” is a very enjoyable and meaningful movie. But, if you want to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., check out one of these fine movies.
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