‘Becoming King’ Review: An Actor Marches On

‘Becoming King’ Review: An Actor Marches On

“Becoming King,” a documentary on Paramount+, traces the actor David Oyelowo’s journey to playing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 drama “Selma.”

Directed by Jessica Oyelowo (the actor’s wife), it’s a lackluster, dutiful affair that plays more like a hagiographic appreciation of David Oyelowo than a tribute to the making of “Selma.” In part, the documentary seems like a reaction to Oyelowo’s Oscars snub the following year in the best actor category, though it does a lousy job at making its case.

The first part of the film digs into Oyelowo’s origins: first, as a child who grew up poor in Lagos, Nigeria; and then, as a theater prodigy who took on leading roles in London’s Royal Shakespeare Company. The next step was Hollywood, where Oyelowo established himself with parts in films that, when strung together, create a history of civil rights in America: Think “Lincoln,” “Red Tails” and “The Help.”

Throughout, the director weaves what appears to be home-video footage from the nearly seven-year process it took to make “Selma.” Around these snippets, which show David at home, taking work calls, or verbalizing his anxieties about playing the civil rights leader, we hear from talking heads like Oprah Winfrey (a producer on the film), Lee Daniels (who was at one point signed on to direct) and DuVernay.

Nothing they say is particularly interesting; they shower the expected compliments on Oyelowo and, otherwise, offer little else beyond their own symbolic power. These are Black entertainers, coming together to make a rare high-profile Hollywood feature about Dr. King, but the documentary only rehashes these facts without truly exploring what made “Selma” such a risky project to mount. Aside from a brief segment with the actor’s dialect coach, we never really get a sense of Oyelowo’s process, either — or the challenges he faced portraying an icon who was also a flesh-and-bones human with imperfections and ambiguities. “Becoming King” exhibits the kind of self-importance that ultimately diminishes the subject, be it Dr. King or Oyelowo.

Becoming King
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 6 minutes. Watch on Paramount+.

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