Monday, April 4, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King & Me

CLICK on graphic for BIGGER view
The news about the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination today (April 4, 1968) got me thinking about the script I wrote about it, Down with the King, and the large amount of research I did to validate what is a fictional story or as Hollywood likes to say “Based on a True Story”.

Even though I didn’t start actually writing Down with the King until the summer of 2001 it was around this time I was seriously considering this to be my next script. I think about a script A LOT before I ever put pen to paper so to speak (I actually prefer a computer). I was actually struggling through MCOM 411 Comm Process that semester, a mass communications theory class that was required for graduation in my major. It probably wouldn’t have been that bad if it wasn’t a three hour class--on a Friday afternoon--in the spring. While everyone else was enjoying the new warmer spring weather we were in class talking about what the red in Run Lola Run represented. In retrospect I liked the class, but at that time it seemed like torture.

Anyway as stated below, after I saw a news report about the assassination I thought to base a story around it and yes the script was heavily influenced by the conspiracy theory film Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). You can read more about the script below, but on this day I wanted to revisit a script and subsequent film I wrote a decade ago. Rest in peace Dr. King. Your dream does indeed live on.

Down with the King
(article written circa 2004)

Synopsis: Two sisters uncover clues leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Adina Shawnessy-FBI agent

Vera Shawnessy-Journalist

Hershey-Vera and Dina’s cousin

Maranthol-Mysterious old friend of Vera and Dina’s father

I wrote Down With The King the summer of 2001. It was my ninth entry into the Scripps Howard Broadcasting contest. Down With The King won first place in 2002 making it my third first place win.

The script was produced by the local Scripps Howard station, WMAR Channel 2 (an ABC affiliate) and theatre company Arena Players (The nation's longest, continuously running, African American community theater.) Basically the station handled the technical part, and the theatre company handled the theatrical part. Arena Players auditioned and hired all the actors and directors, Channel 2 personnel, who would normally work on news programs, handled the filming aspect.

After viewing a news report on the inconsistencies in the murder investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., I thought what if someone found this one little thing and it snowballed into uncovering one of the greatest crimes of the century.

I also wanted the person/people who uncovered it to be investigators by nature and profession, a cop and a reporter. I made the two sisters. Then I chose to make the “cop” a FBI agent and make it the same character from my first winning play Without a Doubt. I wanted to make these two sisters augmentative, but also have an underlying love for each other. I patterned this contentious relationship and named the characters after my aunt and mother “Adina” and “Vera”.

The play had its “world premiere” party at Arena Players February 13, 2002 and aired on Channel 2 February 17, 2002. For the first time the premiere party had a “celebrity host” Judge Hatchett whose eponymous television show was of course shown on Channel 2. (That is an example of the invitation at the top)

Even though all of my plays are special, this one had its distinction also. It was not only my third first place win (something no other writer had done), it was the 20th and subsequently the final winner of the Arena Players/Channel 2 competition for they chose to end the annual competition.

Even though I “retired” from the contest after “setting a record”, [they didn't announce the end of the contest until a year later] I was sad to see the contest end. It was and could have been a great opportunity for aspiring writers.

• The lead character of “Shawnessy” was originally introduced in my play Without a Doubt as just “Shawnessy”. In this play she finally gets a first name [Adina] as well as family members.

• The actress who played “Shawnessy” in Without a Doubt, Laura Sligh, reprised her role in Down With The King.

• In my research for this play I actually contacted the FBI and found out these facts:
As of 2001 there were:
  • 11,275 agents overall
Of them:
  • 9,439 white
  • 1,996 women
  • 830 Hispanic
  • 631 Black
  • 327 Asians
  • 48 Native Americans
Below is a slideshow of stills from the televised play. (*Note: The stills are so small because they were captured from videotape and to make them bigger will distort the quality.)

You can read the Baltimore Sun article about Down with the King here

Related post-
Sun Days

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