Posted on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 by Russ Fischer
To hell with being convicted of tax evasion: despite being sentenced to three years in jail after a protracted battle with the IRS, Wesley Snipes continues trying to make movies. And to hell with Clint Eastwood, too: the movie Mr. Snipes is trying to make now deals with J. Edgar Hoover, specifically with the period in which the FBI director ran a long campaign to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King. The film would be called Code Name Zorro, and the actor says he’s got the King family’s endorsement to tell the story.
Deadline talked to Mr. Snipes, who explained that his IRS situation is “all good.” More to the point, it reveals that the actor fell for Justin Stamm‘s script for Code Name Zorro, which deals with J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO plan, instigated to discredit Martin Luther King with the help of assistant FBI director William Sullivan and a small network of informers and operatives. Among them, it was recently revealed, was Ernest Withers, a long-time photographer for the civil rights movement who was recently revealed as an FBI informant.
The script really uses William Sullivan to focus on the operation — reportedly it is built around the final moments of his life, at a point when his conscience and remorse about helping Hoover work against Dr. King caught up with him. Mr. Sullivan reported to his boss that Dr. King was “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation” and recommended not limiting FBI actions against him to “legalistic proofs or definitely conclusive evidence that would stand up in testimony in court or before Congressional Committees.” But Mr. Sullivan eventually turned against the FBI, telling his story to journalist Jack Taylor after Dr. King was assassinated. But William Sullivan was shot and killed before any version of the book was published.
Two minor side points here:
- For a timeline of the general FBI operation against Dr. King, check out Time’s rundown of COINTELPRO, originally published in 1975.
- This is the same general story that James Ellroy fictionalized in the Underworld USA trilogy of books that began with American Tabloid; the King/Hoover material really happens in The Cold Six Thousand.
This is a great, meaty, horrifying story. James Ellroy does a wonderful, if highly reworked version of it, because he makes it seem simultaneously practical from the FBI side and utterly insane for anyone who wasn’t Hoover. I’d love to see anyone else tackle it with intelligence and sensitivity. If Wesley Snipes can make this happen, I’ll look at him a bit differently.
Meanwhile, what about Blade? That’s essentially the question from Wesley Snipes: what about Blade? He says, “Maybe we get around to doing another Blade, except, from what I’m reading, every other actor is talking about playing him, and nobody is talking to Wesley. How strange that they don’t come and talk to me about it.” And there I was, impressed about the FBI movie. But there’s nothing like talking about yourself in the third person to make a producer say, “yeah, get that guy in here for a meeting.”