Fact Check

Was Tom Hanks Cast as MLK in a New Netflix Movie?

The actor has played many iconic roles over his storied career.

Published Jun 30, 2023

 (Screenshot via Wolfshead Online)
Image Via Screenshot via Wolfshead Online
White actor Tom Hanks will be playing Black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. in a movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

In June 2023, a number of online posts claimed that white actor Tom Hanks had been selected to play Martin Luther King Jr. in a Netflix movie directed by Steven Spielberg about the Black civil rights activist's life. 

The posts shared images claiming to show Hanks embodying King in blackface

is tom hanks playing mlk (@Southside_Gunn/Twitter)

This claim is not true, and originated as satire. We found an April 1, 2023, article titled "Tom Hanks to play Martin Luther King Jr. in Upcoming Spielberg Directed Biopic" on the website Wolfshead Online that clearly stated the story was satirical in nature.

The article described the supposed backlash to the supposed casting: 

But not everyone is happy about this casting choice. Civil rights activists have taken to social media to express their outrage that a white actor has been chosen to play one of the most influential black figures in American history.

"Are you kidding me?" tweeted one user. "Tom Hanks playing Martin Luther King Jr.? What's next, Scarlett Johansson as Nelson Mandela?"

Others have pointed out that Hanks is not known for his ability to portray complex characters, and that his trademark "aw shucks" persona may not be appropriate for such a weighty role.

"This is ridiculous," wrote one critic. "Tom Hanks playing MLK is like Will Ferrell playing Gandhi. It's just not right."

Despite the backlash, Spielberg and Hanks remain confident that they can pull off this challenging project, and have promised to do justice to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A note at the bottom of the article, however, makes it clear that the story is satirical: "Disclaimer: This is a satirical article and not meant to be taken seriously." Furthermore, the story was published on April Fools' Day. 

The images in the article were the same as those that have spread online and appear to have been AI-generated. We were unable to find a reliable source, including verified news media outlets and posts from Hanks, Spielberg, Netflix, or any relevant parties with similar images and claims that such a movie is in the works. If this news had been real, there would have been controversy, and likely headline news about a beloved actor accepting such a role.

It also would have prompted a public discussion about blackface, a practice stemming from minstrel shows in the 19th century, in which white performers darkened their faces and acted out degrading and dehumanizing portrayals of Black people. Despite its racist history, blackface makeup still makes appearances in Halloween costumes and movie performances.


Abramovitch, Seth. "Blackface and Hollywood: From Al Jolson to Judy Garland to Dave Chappelle." The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Feb. 2019, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/blackface-hollywood-al-jolson-judy-garland-dave-chappelle-1185380/. Accessed 30 June 2023.

"Christie Blatchford: Urgent Questions for Justin Trudeau after Last Week's Blackface Revelations." National Post, https://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-urgent-questions-for-justin-trudeau-after-last-weeks-blackface-revelations. Accessed 30 June 2023.

Palma, Bethania. "Does America Have More Governors Who Have Worn Blackface Than Black Governors?" Snopes, 24 Sept. 2019, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/blackface-governors-vs-blacks/. Accessed 30 June 2023.

"Tamar Braxton Defends Julianne Hough's Blackface Costume: 'She Looks Like Me With a Tan!'" E! Online, 30 Oct. 2013, https://www.eonline.com/news/475681/tamar-braxton-defends-julianne-hough-s-blackface-costume-she-looks-like-me-with-a-tan. Accessed 30 June 2023.

"Tom Hanks Played MLK in Which Movie?" Airports India. https://www.airportsindia.org.in/questions/tom-hanks-mlk/. Accessed 30 June 2023.

"Tom Hanks to Play Martin Luther King Jr. in Upcoming Speilberg Directed Biopic." Wolfshead Online. 1 Apr. 2023, https://www.wolfsheadonline.com/tom-hanks-to-play-martin-luther-king-jr-in-upcoming-speilberg-directed-biopic/. Accessed 30 June 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.