Ken Connor

Monday, April 4, 2011 marked the 43rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s tragic death. Cut down in his prime by an assassin's bullet, Dr. King's legacy is one of perseverance, bravery, and sacrifice. He was a man bold to stand against a culture steeped in racism and institutionalized prejudice. He was a man whose dream inspired generations and changed America forever. But, he was also a man who struggled with loneliness and depression, kept mistresses, and overindulged in food and drink. ??

With several King biopics in the works, the life of this American hero is being examined anew. Does Hollywood have the chutzpa to tell King's story with honesty and candor, or will it succumb to portraying the sentimental notion of King the Saint? Author Hampton Sides addressed the tendency to gloss over the humanity of great public figures in favor of a sanitized, sanctified version of them in an interesting opinion piece for the Washington Post. He is hopeful that Hollywood will choose the former course this time around:

??Hopefully these and other portrayals will not seek to sanitize Martin Luther King. We have no use for Hallmark heroes – airbrushed, Photoshopped, simon-pure. We need to see King in all his pathos, imperfection and messy ambiguity. . . . As we mark the anniversary of his death – in Memphis a full-day commemoration will feature former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young – we need to stay mindful of King’s flesh-and-blood humanity. By draping him in a halo glow, we do him little honor. By fashioning him into a fleshless icon, we place his achievements at a sterile remove. By calling our heroes superhuman we also let ourselves off the hook: Why do the hard work of bettering the world if that’s something only saints do? What made King’s eloquence so ferocious and his courage so stirring was that, like the Memphis garbage workers he came to represent, he was a man. ??

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.