Spielberg to film Martin Luther King Jr

LOS ANGELES: Steven Spielberg has acquired the rights to make a film about the life of iconic black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, it was announced Tuesday.

Dreamworks Studios said in a statement it had secured the rights to make the film from the King estate, which it hoped would create the "the definitive portrait" of the murdered activist's tumultuous life.

"We are all honored that the King Estate is giving us the opportunity to tell the story of these defining, historic events," Spielberg said.

"It is our hope that the creative power of film and the impact of Dr King's life can combine to present a story of undeniable power that we can all be proud of."

King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968. The Nobel peace prize winner was just 39 years old.

In death King became a martyr in the civil rights struggle, but in life he was a charismatic hero battling for racial equality, from the 1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama and non-violent protest marches through to his famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington in 1963.

"In trying to tackle such an ambitious project, the question we had to ask ourselves is, why now? The answer lies in MLK's own words: 'all progress is precarious,'" Dreamworks chief executive Stacey Snider said.

"With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us everyday to stand up to hatred and inequality."

Spielberg has already tackled aspects of the African-American experience during his career, directing 1985's acclaimed "The Color Purple," based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The film was nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards but was famously snubbed at the Oscars, failing to win any.