King – *1/2

Posted: November 2, 2013 in 1978, biopic, Drama, Historical, USA, X1/2

There was a time before HBO and Showtime made tv series look like movies, before television networks had the money to invest in set designs, a good soundtrack and casting! There’s a reason why there are so few tv series from the sixties, seventies, eighties or even nineties that passed the test of time. They look so amateur and outdated. Such is the case for King, a 6 hour television series on the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, which I bought after watching the movie Malcolm X again.

It’s a tough experience to sit through this series. First there’s the historically very important story. I’ve seen/read/heard a lot about the civil rights movement already, but it still comes as a shock when you realize this happened only 50 years ago AFTER the Americans saved Europe from the discriminating atrocities of Hitler! It’s with disbelief that you watch how segregation operated in the South for so long. But it’s also very unsettling to realize that there is still a lot of racism, prejudice and mental segregation right now. Martin Luther King deserves all respect for the way he accomplished certain changes in American history. But this series, in retrospect, unintentionally makes you root for Malcolm X a bit more.

And that’s the bigger reason why it’s difficult to fully appreciate this movie. The directing, acting and the editing is SO terrible that you lose empathy for any of the characters, and thus also for the main character of this biopic: Martin Luther King. It’s sad really, because you expect to be rooting for this non-violence activist leader, but you end up disliking the poor acting skills of Paul Winfield so much, that you start to lose interest in the persona he is interpreting. At least I did. Sure, it’s honorable that the series also shows the doubts and weaknesses of its hero, but they are too present.  Moreover, at one point there’s a hint at the fact that he was a womanizer, but he acts so damn sissy all the time! The series spends so much time on boring details that you just want to push that fast forward button any second scene. I understand the sermons and speeches were the key element of his success, but if the actor can’t bring them well, what’s the point of showing them in such full length? Then there’s the voice overs from people who survived Rev. King. His wife, his son, his associates. For three hours you don’t hear any voice over at all and then suddenly they are there. Weird.

In the end, Winfield probably did the best he could and you can’t blame the failure of this series on his acting solely. It’s the mob scenes that annoyed me the most. The demonstrators especially. It feels like the producers told the director to shoot the demonstrations in one take only and ask all men in and around the studio to just ‘act like they are in a demonstration’. It’s terrible. There’s a scene were a freedom rider bus (on which both black and white students were sitting together) gets attacked by a white mob. Honestly, how can you take that scene seriously if every single person in the mob grunts and raises their arms in the air incessantly the same exact way as all the others. It’s amateur and it totally destroys the scene. The Butler may not have been a good movie either, but at least a similar scene in that movie felt much more authentic.

Sometimes it is better to just read a book. Cinema can make or break the image you have of certain historical figures. I hope someone makes a new King-movie soon.


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