Every year, on the third Monday of January, there are a bunch of important people who have their birthdays overlooked. It must suck to be born on Martin Luther King Day. No matter what you’ve accomplished, it must feel like small potatoes in comparison to what Mr. King was able to do. It’s sort of like getting nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award on the same day your brother wins the Nobel Peace Prize. While everyone pats him on the back, there you are, pointing to your computer and shouting, “Hey! I’m a winner too!”
So, very quickly, I would like to recognize five achievers whose birthdays have been overshadowed this MLK Day, January 16, 2012:
Sade – Singer. Her songs have enhanced people’s sex lives for nearly thirty years now.
John Carpenter – Director. When I was a kid, his movie “Big Trouble in Little China” seemed very good.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger – Radio Host. An inspiration to crazy people everywhere.
Ethel Merman – Singer. She was able to be a famous singer despite her grating voice.
David Chokachi – Baywatch Actor. On the show, he saved many lives.
To everyone born on MLK Day, we salute your accomplishments. Now let’s talk about Martin Luther King, because, really, there’s a reason we don’t have David Chokachi Day.
Five or six years ago, I went through a short phase where I seriously wanted to write a screenplay about Dr. Martin Luther King. It struck me that there’s no movie about MLK. I wondered why this is. Malcolm X got a movie. Gandhi got a movie. Even Jesus got a movie. Why was there no love for MLK? I talked about my idea over dinner with my ex-wife, Betty.
“I have an idea for the MLK movie,” I said. “It will be a biopic that focuses only on his boring, day-to-day life. We won’t show the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech or the bus boycott or the protest in Alabama. The whole movie will just be Martin Luther King doing normal things. Eating breakfast. Cleaning his house. Shopping for groceries. Stuff like that.”
“Why would anyone want to watch that?” Betty asked.
“I think it would be interesting to watch Martin Luther King shop for groceries.”
“Is the point supposed to be that he was really a regular guy, just like us?”
“No,” I said. “I think we have a tendency to call a person great based on the person’s accomplishments. Really, what makes a person great is that person’s spirit. Who they are. I want to show that Martin Luther King was an awesome person, which is why he was able to do all the stuff he did.”
“How will we tell that from watching him buy groceries?”
“Not sure. Maybe he’ll be nice to the check-out lady.”
“How do you know Martin Luther King was nice to check-out ladies?”
“I would bet money that he was nice to check-out ladies.”
“He was probably frugal. Don’t you think? With the church and the SCLC. They must’ve kept a tight budget. I bet he kept receipts.”
“Great. That could be in the movie. Martin Luther King keeping his receipts and doing his budget. He could talk to his kids about money. That would be a good scene.”
“Don’t you think it should be accurate? How do you know he did that? Is this movie going to be a bunch of things you make up about Martin Luther King?”
“Well, theoretically, I would be able to interview people and use that.”
“You mean Mrs. King?” she said. “The Luther is his middle name.”
“What?” I asked, taken aback. “She doesn’t get the Luther? If I were her, I would want the Luther. Mrs. King? That could be Larry’s wife! Mrs. Luther King…that makes things a lot more clear.”
Betty sighed. “Her name is actually Coretta Scott King, and you should know that. I think your movie misses the point. He was a great man who did overwhelmingly amazing things. The point should be that he wasn’t like us. I can be nice to the check-out lady. I can’t lead a Civil Rights Movement.”
She was right. We all eat breakfast. We don’t all change the world.
One of the most devastating and inspiring places I’ve been was the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum is inside the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. I went to Memphis from Rochester specifically so I could look out from the balcony like MLK did. In all seriousness, Martin Luther King has been a vastly important figure to me, a hero, for as far back as I can remember. Reading biographies on him, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer amount of violence and hate that he faced. He was better than it, stronger than it. He walked through hell and hell changed, not him. He is an extraordinary figure in history and today it’s great to know his country thanks him.
“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.