Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger has been tapped to direct and produce a feature-length documentary investigating the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The as-yet untitled film will be based on the life of Reverend James Lawson, a friend and advisor to King. A civil rights icon in his own right, the 90-year-old Lawson played a key role in the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis, even inviting King to Memphis to speak to the striking workers the night before his assassination.
In addition, Berlinger will direct Slay the Dreamer, a scripted feature film about the same subject.
The two film projects will document Lawson’s efforts to re-open the investigation into King’s April 1968 assassination after discovering, in 1976, that Grace Walden – the only eyewitness to the man who shot King – had involuntarily been held in a mental institution. According to Lawson, the FBI had held Walden under a fake alias after she refused a US$100,000 reward or to sign an affidavit stating that James Earl Ray was the man she saw pull the trigger.
The individual films will track Lawson’s investigation to free Walden, while uncovering new evidence that suggests Walden was correct in her belief that Ray did not murder the seminal civil rights activist.
Elizabeth Fowler will produce the untitled documentary with Berlinger. Lawson, meanwhile, will act as a consultant to both the documentary and the feature film.
“This is an extremely painful chapter of American history that for many remains unresolved,” said Berlinger in a statement. “In this era of accountability and racial division, I am extremely humbled at the prospect of working with Revered Lawson to shine a light on what really happened that fateful day 51 years ago.”
“Joe’s abilities as an investigative filmmaker in both scripted and unscripted form creates a unique opportunity to reveal shocking allegations behind this seminal event of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” added Fowler.
Berlinger most recently released two simultaneous projects on serial killer Ted Bundy in January 2019: the investigative docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, and the scripted film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.