Still from King in the Wilderness, produced by Trey Ellis

Full Time Professor Trey Ellis Produces HBO Documentary About Martin Luther King Jr.

BY Fernando Iriarte , April 19, 2018

King in the Wilderness posterApril 4th, 2018 was a historic day, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. As a way of honoring his extraordinary contribution to the civil rights movement and promotion of racial equality, Associate Professor Trey Ellis produced King in the Wilderness: an HBO documentary about the last three days in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.


“The film explores how King endured criticism from White supremacists, the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and from Black activists who saw his tactics as too conciliatory,” Ellis explained, addressing the decision on that specific period of King’s life.


Ellis and the team always thought of Martin Luther King Jr. the man instead of the icon. This gave them the perspective and depth needed to portray an extraordinary character in the most honest and real way. Ellis says in an interview with Script Magazine: "I was trying to say, 'forget that he was an icon,' as much as possible, and try to go back and ask his friends to really start from the beginning, and really peel away all these layers, talking about King the man, and show the difference, show the man behind the mask."


King in the Wilderness has been unanimously acclaimed by the critics. To this day, it holds a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.


Hank Stuever of The Washington Post said: “It’s easy to make another documentary that further elevates the already-bolstered life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. […] The trickier task is to make a documentary that not only feels new but also brings King briefly back down to earth […] Such is the careful result of King in the Wilderness.


Kenneth Turnan of the Los Angeles Times celebrated the film by saying: "Though this film is simple to summarize, to understand and experience the powerful emotional charge King in the Wilderness conveys, it simply must be seen."


Trey Ellis is an award-winning screenwriter, an American Book Award Winning novelist, and playwright. He has written screenplays for, among others, Columbia Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, HBO and Showtime. Along with the Emmy nomination, his HBO film, The Tuskegee Airmen, went on to win a Peabody Award and several NAACP Image Awards.



Recently, Ellis’ play Fly received three awards at The NAACP Theatre Awards, including Best Production. Since it opened, the play has been celebrated by the critics. Anita Gates, from the New York Times, wrote: “Fly blew me away […] it is a superior piece of theatrical synergy.”


King in the Wilderness premiered April 2 on HBO. Subscribers can stream the documentary via or the HBO Go mobile app.