Still from King in the Wilderness

'King in the Wilderness' by Professor Trey Ellis Takes Home an Emmy

BY Zoe Contros Kearl, September 25, 2019

Trey Elli holding an Emmy AwardUPDATE 9/25/19

King in the Wilderness, an HBO documentary produced by Professor Trey Ellis about the last three days of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, took home the Emmy for Outstanding Historical Documentary last night.



Two films by Columbia filmmakershave been nominated for Emmys this year. King in the Wilderness, an HBO documentary produced by Professor Trey Ellis about the last three days of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, is nominated for an Outstanding Historical Documentary Emmy Award, and The Price of Everything, executive produced by alumna Katharina Otto-Bernstein '92, is nominated for an Outstanding Arts & Culture Documentary Emmy Award.


King in the Wilderness aims to show King as not just a myth, but a man, leaving viewers with a more nuanced depiction of the famed civil rights leader. 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."


Drawing on conversations with those who knew Dr. King well, including many fellow members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King in the Wilderness reveals new perspectives on Dr. King’s character, his radical doctrine of nonviolence, and his internal philosophical struggles prior to his assassination in 1968. The documentary also features archival footage, behind-the-scenes video of Dr. King’s private moments, intimate archival photographs and phone conversations recorded by President Johnson, who was both ally and adversary in King’s fight for civil rights. The documentary premiered at Sundance and was released to universal praise. 


"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." - Kenneth Turnan, Los Angeles Times


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.


Man walking down snowy lane

Still from The Price of Everything


With unprecedented access to pivotal artists and the white-hot market surrounding them, The Price of Everything dives deep into the contemporary art world, holding a mirror up to our values and our times — where everything can be bought and sold.


“Not everything worth saving needs to be articulated in this highly polished documentary—a beautiful piece of representational art, as it happens” — John Anderson, Wall Street Journal


Otto-Bernstein is an award winning filmmaker and producer. Her distinguished career credits include When Night falls over MoscowComing HomeThe Second Greatest Story Ever ToldThe Need for Speed, the series The Industrialists Hall of Fame, as well as the HBO documentaries The Price of EverythingMapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, and Absolute Wilson. She is the author of Absolute Wilson: The Biography, a memoir of the acclaimed stage director Robert Wilson and the dramaturge of Karol Armitage’s ballet Fables for Global Warming. Otto-Bernstein has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy, a Critics Choice Award, a Cinema Eye Award, a GLAAD Award, a Grierson Award and received a Golden Hugo from the Chicago International Film Festival for Best Documentary.


The News & Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Tuesday, September 24th, 2019, at a ceremony at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City.