Casting King Part II: Who Should Play Coretta Scott?
If it's true that behind every great man lies a great woman (and I'm not crazy enough to suggest otherwise), then casting the right actress for the role of Coretta Scott King is equally as important as deciding who will play Martin Luther. The lucky lady who wins the part will have to exude the same amount of grace and intelligence as the woman whose life she's reinacting, and she'll have to do it with little to no effort.
So, like Martin, picking the right woman (if this thing is done right) should not be easy. Also like Martin, famous resemblances are hard to come by, and even those who manage to marginally favor King's better half need to be a lot more than just a pretty face.
With that being said, here's a list of who should be in the running:
#5. PAULA PATTON
Mrs. Robin Thicke has been getting a lot of attention since starring alongside Denzel Washington in Deja Vu, and the early word from Sundance suggests that she's great in the upcoming drama Precious. It's not hard at all for me to picture her playing the wife of Martin Luther, even if she doesn't look a lot like the actual Coretta. But she's already playing Billie Holiday in another biopic, and I don't like the idea of one actor or actress taking on several different real life figures, particularly if they're not the absolute best choice to play them all. Patton wouldn't be a bad choice, but I wouldn't cast her until I had considered every other possible option first.
#4. SANAA LATHAN
She's starred in box office hits like Love & Basketball and Alien vs. Predator, and yet, she isn't a huge movie star, outside of the African American community at least. I think for this role, that's a good thing. A star who's not quite a household name could stand to benefit a lot from a role like this one. She's definitely got the effortless grace and intelligence down, and I'd say she favors Coretta Scott by a small margin more than Patton. But there's an inherent toughness to Coretta that I have a hard time seeing in Lathan. Not that it isn't there, or that she couldn't pull the role off, because I feel confident she could. But if it's between Sanaa and someone who I think would have less difficulty taping into that sense of fearlessness, I'd give it to someone else.
#3. CARMEN EJOGO
Ejogo has a leg up on the other ladies for a few reasons. She's already played Coretta in the HBO movie Boycott, she's married to that film's co-star Jeffrey Wright (so chemistry shouldn't be a problem, were he to get the lead role), and she has that required attribute of boldness essential to the character. The resemblance is still not where it should be (or where I'd like for it to be anyway), but everything else puts her in a good position for a part she's already proven to be qualified for.
#2. SOPHIE OKONEDO
If you don't know who she is by name, you should. Okonedo is one of the best actresses working in the business today, recently appearing in last year's The Secret Life of Bees. Her breakout role was playing Don Cheadle's wife in Hotel Rwanda, a performance that earned her a well deserved Academy Award nomination. It's that performance in particular that drew me to list her as a suitable Coretta Scott candidate almost instantly. She has all of the needed attributes, she could use the name recognition with a part like this, and, maybe it's just me, but she seems to favor King, at least when her hair is straighter. Still, she's not a dead ringer for the part, and if Chiwetel Ejofor got the part of Martin, I'm not sure how keen everyone would be about casting Brits to play two of the biggest African American icons ever . But if I had to choose someone currently working in the industry today, she'd have my vote.
#1. Another Unknown
Yep, I like giving big parts to uknowns, which is why I doubt producers would seriously consider any of my choices. But I have to withhold making a formal pick for Coretta for the same reason I delayed selecting a Martin: I don't feel like there's a perfect choice out there. Yet. And in many respects, I actually think it's going to be harder to find a worthy Coretta than a worthy Martin. Aside from the toughness, grace and beauty apparent in any picture of the civil rights leader's wife, it's difficult to articulate exactly what it is that made Mrs. King so one-of-a-kind. I just feel like when I see it in the right actress, I'll know. I haven't seen it yet, but here's to hoping that the filmmakers involved don't start rolling until they do.
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