The Spigot: Why Hugh Jackman’s Martin Luther King movie will never be made
The innernets lit up this week with the news that filmmaker Lee Daniels and actor Hugh Jackman are planning to film William Pepper’s 1995 book Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Millennium Films is reported to be financing the project.
Whether it actually happens or not is another story. The killing of MLK was An Act of State—to borrow the title of Pepper’s second book on the subject—and therefore one of the unspeakable truths of our time. Hollywood learned its lessons about truth-saying back in the early ’90s.
When public reaction to Oliver Stone’s JFK prompted the JFK Records Act in 1992, the millions of classified files that were subsequently released clarified a great many things about Kennedy’s execution, including the extent to which New Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination—the very subject of Stone’s film—was infiltrated and undermined by the CIA and other federal agencies.
In other words, both Stone’s film and the much-maligned Garrison were exonerated by the record, once we were allowed to actually see it.
Not that the average person among us is familiar with the new era of assassination research that came in the wake of the JFK Records Act. Stone is still dismissed as a crackpot by our hive-minded media, just as NBC’s Walter Sheridan went well above and beyond in his efforts to destroy Garrison back in the ’60s. One wonders, for instance, what kind of journalist pays witnesses to move out of state so that they can avoid being indicted, as Sheridan did.
In any event, even with less official transparency, the plot to kill King was laid bare in Pepper’s books, thanks to the 25 years he spent investigating the murder. Pepper was King’s friend in the last year of his life, and eventually acted as attorney for both James Earl Ray and the King family.
He first visited Ray in prison in ’78 at the behest of King’s colleague Ralph Abernathy. Convinced of his innocence, he took him on as a client 10 years later. Ray was never tried; he copped a guilty plea on the dubious advice of his lawyer Percy Foreman, and spent the rest of his life trying to have it overturned. Foreman even paid Ray $500 for a new lawyer, on the condition that Ray agreed to take the guilty plea. Foreman knew that Ray’s efforts would be futile.
Over the years, Pepper learned that the assassination was planned in a small restaurant called Jim’s Grill, and that the fatal shot had come from a brushy area in the back facing the Lorraine Motel—an area that was destroyed the following day by city services, thereby wiping out the crime scene.
He discovered that the owner-manager of Jim’s, Lloyd Jowers, was paid $100,000 to receive and then discard the murder weapon, and that the plot was organized on the local level by a mobster named Frank Liberto, along with members of the Memphis police. On the federal level, Pepper established the involvement of the FBI among other military and civilian intelligence groups.
If you look at the picture above, the man leaning over King checking for vital signs is an intelligence agent named Marrell McCollough. McCollough had infiltrated a black activist group called the Invaders, who were running King’s security in Memphis. He was seconded to the Memphis police by military intelligence in June ’67, and went on to work for the CIA.
Pepper even tracked down Ray’s mysterious handler, Raoul, living under government protection in New York State.
All of this and much more was covered in a civil trial in Memphis in 1999, in which a 12-person jury—having been presented with 70 of Pepper’s witnesses—concluded that King was murdered in a plot that included local and federal agencies. The trial was sponsored and its verdict endorsed by the King family.
But the larger point of all of this is that the major media went into blackout mode over thr trial, with the exception of ABC’s Wendell Stacy, who ended up losing his job after refusing to take the advice of his nervous superiors. And this is the Spigot’s admittedly long-winded way of suggesting that Daniels and Jackman have roughly little to no chance of getting their movie made, or at least seen.
But we can hope. Besides being fans of the truth, we’d love to see a barnstorming dandy like William Pepper getting a Wolverine makeover.
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.