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Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

Take a look at the actors who carried on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on screen.

Martin Luther King Jr. may have passed generations ago, but his legacy lives on, both in politics and in pop culture. As people continue to fight for their civil rights today, many look to King’s memory for guidance. One way people have honored the activist is on film and on TV.

Most recently, Aml Ameen tackled the role of Dr. King in the 2023 Netflix film Rustin. In our exclusive interview, Aml opened up about the dream he had about playing MLK Jr. before scoring the audition and how he prepped for the “I Have a Dream” speech. Ready for more stars who have stepped into Martin Luther King Jr.’s shoes? Check out the gallery for all the best.

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Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Aml Ameen plays Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2023 Netflix film Rustin. The Bayard Rustin biopic closely follows the friendship between Dr. King and the gay civil rights activist.

January 15, 2024, 10:00AM 2 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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David Oyelowo is one of the more recent stars to play Martin Luther King Jr. He was the lead of 2014’s Selma. Searching deeper than his “I Have A Dream” speech, the film followed the events leading up to Bloody Sunday, when throngs of protestors were attacked while peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It also starred Carmen Ejogo, and featured the one and only Oprah Winfrey.

January 12, 2023, 7:10PM 3 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Jeffrey Wright played MLK in 2001’s Boycott, seen here with Terrence Howard, left. Terrance played real-life activist Ralph Abernathy in the film, which follows the events of the Montgomery Bus boycott.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 4 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Samuel L. Jackson made his Broadway debut as Martin Luther King. Jr. in the 2011 play The Mountaintop. The play, which featured Angela Bassett, was set in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, during the final moments before King’s assassination.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 5 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Malik Yoba captured the spirit of MLK in 2013’s Betty and Coretta. The TV movie followed the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s widows after their husbands’ assassination. Mary J. Blige played Betty Shabazz and Angela Bassett was Coretta Scott King.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM

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Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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The real-life King family visited Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on MLK Day 2001. His son Dexter Scott King gave a stirring sermon to the congregation, which used to be his father’s. Mom Coretta Scott King (right) and sister Bernice Albertine King (left) sat behind him.

While not an actor, Dexter’s seen some screen time. The civil rights leader’s son paid tribute to his father by appearing as him in 2002’s The Rosa Parks Story, starring Angela Bassett.

January 12, 2023, 7:07PM 7 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Paul Winfield played Pastor King in 1978’s King. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for the miniseries, which also featured Cicely Tyson.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 8 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Levar Burton played M.L.K in the Will Smith-fronted Muhammad Ali biopic Ali (2001.) The movie showed the boxer’s fiery political side, which intersected with the activist in the late 60s.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 9 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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James Earl Jones is a legend no matter what to the role is. He truly mastered his craft for the 1982 miniseries Freedom To Speak, where he played both MLK and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Historical figures like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, and Daniel Webster also appeared in the miniseries.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 10 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Courtney B. Vance played MLK in the 2000 miniseries Parting the Waters.

He often speaks about the pastor as an inspiration.  In 2017, the star talked about MLK’s legacy with the Outlook Valley Sun, saying “As Rosa Parks sat down and the world stood up, everyone’s lives as they knew it shifted. MLK went from being the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church to being the leader of the Civil Rights movement, and he had nothing to do with it. He had no hand in it. He didn’t ask for it. He did not seek it. It was thrust upon him.”

January 12, 2023, 7:09PM 11 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Nelsan Ellis of True Blood fame played MLK in Lee Daniels’ 2013 film The Butler. The 2013 film followed White House butler Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, and also featured Oprah Winfrey and future-King, David Oyelowo.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 12 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Robert Guillaume played Martin Luther King. Jr. in the 1985 film Prince Jack. The movie followed the life of President John F. Kennedy, played by Robert Hogan.

January 12, 2023, 7:08PM 13 of 13

Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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Clifton Powell, here in 2005, was the great Mr. King in the Disney Channel movie Selma, Lord Selma (1999). The movie follows Sheyann, played by a young Jurnee Smollett, as she is inspired to join the civil rights movement by Dr. King.

January 12, 2023, 7:09PM Click to Subscribe to Get Our Free HollywoodLife Daily Newsletter to get the hottest celeb news. Articles Trending Now

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Stars Who Played Martin Luther King Jr. Over the Years: Photos

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