Today's Evil Beet Gossip

Actors Who Have Played Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I seldom find something I’m really excited to read in The Dallas Weekly—I mean, really—but their catalogue of actors who have played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is extraordinary. (Yes, I even filched their entire image gallery. That’s how excited I am.)

Some of television and film’s very best actors have committed Dr. King’s legacy to screen. In no particular order:

Jeffrey Wright

Photo: Actor Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tony and Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright may best be remembered for his title role in Basquiat. He supplied his formidable talents to his portrayal of Dr. King in HBO’s Boycott; what finer actor to do artistic justice to some of Dr. King’s most moving and impassioned oratories.

Robert Guillaume

Photo: actor Robert Guillaume in 1980

The esteemed Robert Guillaume is no stranger to television—he is best loved as Benson Du Bois, while younger viewers will remember him from Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night”—but he’s appeared in film from time to time, too. He played Dr. King in 1985’s Prince Jack.

Courtney B. Vance

Photo: actor Courtney Vance

Twice nominated for Tony Awards—but most recognizable as A.D.A. Carver on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent—the Harvard and Yale -educated thespian first tackled Shakespeare in undergrad. He played Dr. King in the television mini-series Parting the Waters, which was based on the Pulitzer-winning three-volume biography.

Paul Winfield

Photo: Actor Paul Winfield as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paul Winfield may best be remembered for his roles in science fiction movies, but the Academy Award-nominated actor frequently broke ground in television and theater as well. He was twice nominated for the Emmy—once for Roots: The Next Generation, and once for King, wherein Winfield starred as Dr. King. The mini-series was nominated for nine Emmy Awards in all. Winfield died in 2004.

Clifton Powell

Photo: Actor Clifton Powell as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With a resume including House Party, Next Friday, and Friday After Next, Powell isn’t the obvious go-to for Dr. King’s authority and gravitas. But Powell is a terrific character actor, and he played a key role in Selma, Lord, Selma. The screenplay was nominated for the illustrious Humanitas Prize in 1999.

LeVar Burton

Photo: Actor LeVar Burton

Oh, yes. Yes, really. The host of “Reading Rainbow”—that’s right, Geordi La Forge himself—played Dr. King in Michael Mann’s bio-pic Ali, starring Will Smith. Burton won his first Emmy for the first role of his career, as Kunta Kinte in the mini-series Roots.

(Many thanks owed to The Dallas Weekly; first image via Discovery Education.)

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Jenn,
    I appreciate you so much for this feature, a great way to acknowledge the Holiday without the obvious references,
    Clifton Powell, Really!!???

  • Jenn,
    I appreciate you so much for this feature, a great way to acknowledge the Holiday without the obvious references,
    Clifton Powell, Really!!???

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  • I appreciate the fact that you had all of the main Characters who acted as Dr. King. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie Jeffrey Wright acted in however I was very impressed with his acting ability and his smooth
    familiar behavior in which I knew and the young lady who played Mrs. King just seem to act in said manner. I remember now it was “boycott”, I keep looking for him to act in “King’. Thanks for availing this information.