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Contemporary Film Update Of 'Porgy And Bess' In Development

by Tambay A. Obenson
April 8, 2013 1:28 PM
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Porgy And Bess

Well, well, well! Variety is reporting exclusively that a "re-envisioned" contemporary film version of Porgy And Bess is in development, with producers Mike Medavoy and Bobby Geisler, at the helm.

The Gershwin family and the estate of lyricist DuBose Heyward, are said to be directly involved in the project, which they are hoping will be "a lot better" than the 1959 film which starred Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, directed by Otto Preminger. Apparently, the Gershwin family wasn't too happy with that film.

We get approached a lot with ideas that aren’t very good but Mike has a great track record,” Marc George Gershwin, nephew of the Gershwin brothers, noted. “We’re confident that he’s going to able to find the right director and writer. And we already have the music.

When a stage revival of the George and Ira Gershwin/DuBose Heyward groundbreaking opera was announced 2 years ago, in a collaboration between Pultizer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Diane Paulus, I wondered whether we would eventually see a contemporary retelling of the story on film as well, if the Broadway musical (which starred Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis), was a success.

And a success it was - both commercially and critically, with Audra winning to Tony for Best Leading Actress In A Musical.

So it could very well be that the families were encouraged by that and figured the next logical step was to bring the work to the screen, which looks to also be a musical.

I'd also assume that their choice to update the original work to reflect current times, will draw some debate between purists who would prefer that the original work be adapted as is, and those who would prefer a present-day depiction of black people in this country.

2010 marked the 75th anniversary of the work that's certainly a product of its time, in terms of its characterizations of black people, sparking racial controversy since its debut in 1935. I'm not sure how "contemporary" this film "re-envisioning" revival will be.

No word yet on how exactly the producers plan to tackle it. They still have to find a writer and director. Although I hope they don't do what do what Robert Townsend and MTV did with Carmen: A Hip Hopera in 2001, or what Will Smith, Jay-Z and company plan to do with Annie. In other words, make it a film for adults please!

Regardless, I'm intrigued. Let's wait and see what they do with it; but feel free to speculate all you want, including on casting (they'd need to be able to sing at the very least, assuming this is going to be a film musical).

Past credits for the producers include The Thin Red Line, Zodiac, Shutter Island and Black Swan, so, with that resume, you could say this is a project that's in good hands.

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  • ALM | April 8, 2013 8:00 PMReply

    Already shuddering thinking about the bad casting choices that may be made.....

  • Ashley1 | April 8, 2013 10:27 PM

    Damn it that didn't even come into mind until I read your comment. UGHHHH!!! What happened to The Color Purple Musical movie with Fantasia?

  • Ava | April 8, 2013 6:18 PMReply

    The Paulus/Suzan Lori Parks Porgy and Bess adaptation had relative success, especially for McDonald who individually got adulation but I remembered the initial overall reviews being somewhat mixed.
    And that very memorable verbal clash between Stephen Sondheim and Paulus and Suzan Lori Parks is worth revisiting (Sondheim was cited for his lack of real exposure to black culture).
    Still, the 2011 Porgy and Bess adaptation succeeds far better than say...Hip Hop/MTV Carmen.
    But I remember reading that Paulus and Parks wanted to make their adaptation appealing to a contemporary audience as they thought the original had language that was stilted.

  • urbanauteur | April 8, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Spike Lee has been reportedly for years, trying to bring this to the big screen....who knew???

  • Critical acclaim | April 8, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    Or rather - in good white hands. Whatever that means to you. Some place more stock in those hands and their handling than others. Between this and the Good Times remake, I'll leave this to y'all and wait for the next McQueen, Duvernay, Rees, Nance or Jenkins project.

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