Studio threatened with legal action from kids

Is DreamWorks’ dream of bringing a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic to the bigscreen about to be shattered?

One day after Daily Variety reported that Steven Spielberg had gained full access to the King Estate for what would be the first-ever narrative feature about the slain civil rights leader, two of King’s children are threatening legal action over the project.

Bernice King and Martin Luther King III have been embroiled in a legal battle with brother Dexter King, who is chairman-CEO of the King Estate, over who controls the personal papers of their late mother, Coretta Scott King. Bernice King told the Associated Press on Tuesday: “This is a deal that Mr. Spielberg and his people … have entered into believing that they have the blessing of the King Estate. They don’t have the blessings of Bernice and Martin King.”

Still, DreamWorks insiders said they are confident that family infighting will not affect the project, which is in early development but is already garnering a great deal of interest from prospective writers and talent following the Daily Variety story.

Though he didn’t address his siblings specifically, Dexter King released a statement on Tuesday evening saying he alone is in charge of granting access to his father’s intellectual property. “The King Estate is committed to working very closely with DreamWorks (and producers) Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones, whom we chose to create the first major motion picture on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We hope that this will be the definitive film on his life and legacy. For over 15 years, I have had the honor of being the chief executive of the King Estate Corp. and am charged with the duties of managing my father’s name, image, likeness, recorded voice, copyrighted works and rights of publicity.”

Meanwhile, DreamWorks is hoping that the family can find common ground on the film project. The company said in a statement Wednesday: “We remain committed to pursuing a film chronicling Martin Luther King’s life provided that there is unity in the family so we can make a film about unity in our nation. We believe this is what Dr. King would have wanted.”

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