Samuel L. Jackson As Martin Luther King, Jr. In The Mountaintop
As has been pointed out before, we’ve seen iterations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in many forms over the years. From recordings of his famous “I Have A Dream Speech” (which has turned out to be a lasting testament to his greatness, as well as a handcuff to his true legacy), to small-screen portrayals, they all seem to lack the realism and depth to show us a true human being something Spike Lee was able to do with Malcolm X.
While Dr. King has still never been given his just due in film yet, he has come to life in the world of theater. Broadway, the world’s biggest stage, is a very fitting home for a King. Enter The Mountaintop, a re-imagining of the night of April 3, 1968 when Dr. King gave his last speech, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” in Memphis, TN. By about 6PM the next evening, the world would lose the very real luminary whose heart, courage, and life were—and remain to this day—bigger than any speech he could ever give.
In this stage production—written by playwright Katori Hall—Dr. King is played by the one and only Samuel L. Jackson. The only other member of the cast is Angela Bassett as Camae, a mysterious new maid at the Lorraine Motel where King is staying.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking. When you think of Jackson, you think of a whole lot of swearing and badassery. That’s exactly the version of the icon that Hall wants us to see. A chain-smoking, potty-mouthed, flirt of a preacher who finds out a secret about himself and questions his life and legacy due to his chance meeting of Camae.
However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the question has to be asked: Does the play go too far?
Shouldn’t we be more protective of our great leaders of the past than to allow someone to simply “re-imagine” details of their lives and present them to the public, thus having influence over public perception of them? Furthermore, hasn’t King undergone enough posthumous humbling in the past few decades?
I’m sure the play does a great job of giving a look into what Dr. King‘s life may have been like. Unfortunately, in the Information Age in which we live, we have a way of making our heroes not quite so heroic anymore.