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Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Latest King Sibling Feud!
By Christopher Quinn
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA - Zealous guardians of his words and his likeness, the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is demanding a share of the proceeds from the sudden wave of T-shirts, posters and other merchandise depicting the civil rights leader alongside Barack Obama.
Isaac Newton Farris Jr., King's nephew and head of the nonprofit King Center in Atlanta, said the estate is entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees — maybe even millions.
But while Obama's election as the first black president may be the fulfillment of King's dream and could yield a big windfall for his estate, policing his image and actually collecting any fees could prove to be a legal nightmare because of the great proliferation of unauthorized King-Obama paraphernalia, much of it sold by street vendors.
Now the Kings are fighting the sale of movie rights to Spielberg Film works. The latest controversory sparks new battle among King siblings and DreamWorks Studios’ announcement Tuesday that it plans a big-screen epic on the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quickly sparked a new battle among his three feuding children.
Dexter King, who lives in California, negotiated the sale of rights by the King estate for what he hopes will be “the definitive film” on his father’s life and legacy, he said in a news release.
But his brother and sister, Atlantans Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, said they only learned of the deal in an e-mail from him Tuesday as Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios announced the project.
They don’t consider the deal valid and plan to fight it, Bernice King said in an interview later Tuesday.
“We are taking action. We cannot reveal what it is at this time,” she said.
“Dexter King has entered into an agreement without approval of his shareholders,” she said. “It’s about Dexter King and the empire he is trying to build with Madison Jones.”
Jones, a longtime associate of Dexter King’s, and former Motown Records executive and film producer Suzanne de Passe worked on the deal with DreamWorks and heavyweight filmmaker Spielberg, according to de Passe. Spielberg, Jones and de Passe would be co-producers. De Passe, in a phone interview, declined to say how much the deal is worth.
Dexter King, 48, who could not be reached Tuesday, is the chief executive of the King estate. Martin Luther King III, 51, and Bernice King, 46, have been contending legally with him for months over its control and other issues.
De Passe said she was aware of ongoing legal fights among the King siblings.
“But that has no real bearing on [the film],” de Passe said, a comment echoed by a DreamWorks spokeswoman.
Production years off
Spielberg said in a DreamWorks news release that he hoped to bring a movie “of undeniable power that we can all be proud of” to the screen.
De Passe said the next step will be hiring screenwriters, and that production could be two years away.
The King siblings have gone to court in Georgia over control of the corporation that controls their parents’ legacy. That case revolves around papers of their mother, Coretta Scott King, that Dexter King is trying to use for a biography and that Martin and Bernice King are trying to block.
Martin and Bernice King were also angered by a deal cut by Dexter King and a record company for recordings of their father.
Young supports film
Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor, diplomat and lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr., said a movie by Spielberg —- maker of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” among other films —- might be the best way to tell the slain civil rights leader’s story.
“We’ve had few documentaries but we’ve never had a film that has the budget and the cinematography and the spirit that is capable of telling the King story,” Young said.
“His work was dream works and we all grew up on his dream.”
Young also said such a film has been Dexter King’s longtime goal.
“Dexter has been single-minded in his pursuit of this effort. … What he has been looking for is a major motion picture production.”
He said he thought Martin and Bernice King had accepted that Dexter King is in control of at least this aspect of their father’s legacy.
“They have gotten a bad rap but they have given a bad rap to each other,” he said of the three children.
“I think Dexter is a loner. He would have been a hero if he had … continued the legacy by feeding the hungry or if he had gone into politics. But he has always thought he had the responsibility of communicating his father’s and mother’s legacy globally. I think the other two didn’t feel that way, and I could see both sides.”
“They are all accomplished in their own way but none of them are their father and we can’t expect them to be their father.”
Young said the film will have a hard time pleasing everyone.
“The problem is that nobody will like the movie in the movement,” Young said. “I don’t know who they can get to play Martin Luther King.”
Staff writer Steve Visser contributed to this article.