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Exclusive: Lorraine Hansberry Biopic In Development (Taye Hansberry, Numa Perrier, Issa Rae)

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 31, 2013 11:46 AM
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Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry

Shadow & Act has learned that what will be an unconventional biopic based on the life of playwright, author, activist Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun), is in development, with long time collaborators Taye Hansberry (grand niece of Lorraine Hansberry and author of, and Numa Perrier (The Couple) penning the script to a film that will star Taye in the title role, and will be directed by Perrier.

Issa Rae is set to play Nina Simone, who was a close friend of Lorraine until her death.

And Jaleel White will play James Baldwin, Hansberry's close friend and confidant.

Will Stewart (Casting Director for Scandal) is casting the project, with additional announcements to come. 

Production is slated to begin in early fall, with the project now heading into the pre-production stage. 

Living quite an involved life, Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. She's likely most-known for her seminal play about a struggling black family in Chicago, A Raisin in the Sun (a line taken from a Langston Hughes poem). 

It was the first play produced on Broadway by an African American woman. It opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, and was a great success. 

The film version of A Raisin in the Sun was completed in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier

Throughout her life, she was heavily involved in civil rights, and died very young at just 34 of pancreatic cancer.

There's obviously a lot more to know about Hansberry's life - some of it, public information; some of it not; much of it unfolding on screen, in this upcoming project.

The film won't be a traditional biopic, as already noted, which this writer is excited to hear; and given what I know of Perrier's past artistic endeavors over the years (engaged in almost all forms of media), I'd expect something bold here.

Stay tuned...

In the meantime, here's a photo of Taye Hansberry as Lorraine Hansberry:

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  • lilkunta | June 20, 2013 9:05 PMReply

    WHAT? Zoe Saldana isnt portraying Lorraine? LOL

    Does taye have a real chinn butt or is that makeup?

  • Gregory D. Goyins | June 19, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Thank you Taye, Numa and Issa. I hope you create "A good story, well told."
    Lorraine Hansberry's inspirational life and legacy deserve that.

    Much love and respect for your endeavor.

  • Clarence B.Jones | June 17, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in The Sun" was produced and presented on Broadway by Phil Rose.

    Lorraine and James Baldwin knew one another and had great mutual respect for each other's work.

    No story about Lorraine can be historically accurate unless it also has reference to the conflicted relationship she had with her father, financially successful real estate developer/owner, plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Hansberry vs. Lee, outlawing racially restrictive covenants in the purchase and sale of real estate.

    Equally, any biopic film should include her relationship with Robert Barron Nemiroff, whom she eventually married, and then became estranged.

    Dr. Clarence B. Jones

  • JLG | June 13, 2013 8:01 PMReply

    I think its really sad fact, that the only thing that some want to focus on is Hansberry's sexual orientation.

  • Ava | June 8, 2013 6:41 PMReply

    I remember when I wrote my first full-length play (my 1st play, really), one of the plays that I looked to, in terms of structure, format and content was Raisin in the Sun. The other playwright's whose work I really looked closely at were August Wilson, who I was fortunate enough to almost meet when I scored tickets to a matinee of Seven Guitars, (where he happened to be in attendance). The other playwright whose work I looked to was Una Marson, a Jamaican playwright, who perhaps no one is familiar with.

    I'd be interested in seeing this biopic but so many of these films get mentioned and then stalled, so I guess I'll just maintain a 'wait and see' approach.

  • urbanauteur | June 11, 2013 3:09 PM

    @AVA check out these Harlem Renaissance playwrights with the support of W.E.B.Dubois- GEORGIA DOUGLASS, MAY MILLER, MARY BURRILL, EVALALIE SPENCE.

  • Orville | June 1, 2013 11:35 PMReply

    Lorraine Hansberry's lesbianism and her reticence to coming out is a very important part of her life story. I actually think it is the most important part of Hansberry's life because it was so hidden. Hansberry's conflict about being a lesbian is evident her work hardly discusses the fact she was gay. And this biopic needs to do a good job of bringing Hansberry's lesbianism to the surface and exploring why she had so much internal struggle with being gay.

    Most people only know Hansberry wrote A Raisin in The Sun and that's it. People need to know Hansberry had multiple lesbian lovers she wasn't hiding being gay living in New York City and hanging out with her gay best friend James Baldwin.

    Lorraine only married Robert Nemiroff a white Jewish political activists to give herself a straight image. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s America was so homophobic that Hansberry would probably have risked her career if she came out back then. Hansberry's interracial marriage didn't last and Nemiroff knew Hansberry was gay. Hansberry's lesbianism has been pushed to the background due to the homophobia of the black community. It is disgrace that people don't know Hansberry was gay and it should be known. This movie better be discussing about Hansberry's work in a groundbreaking 1950s lesbian organization, and her letters about being a lesbian being published in The Ladder.

  • BYOUNG | June 1, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    No one thought Lorraine Hansberry could do anything either. Until she did.

  • JLG | June 13, 2013 7:53 PM

    Orville, first and foremost Lorraine Hansberry was a human-being. Why, must you focus only on Hansberry's sexual orientation?

  • REESE | June 1, 2013 12:41 PMReply

    This project sounds exciting! Girl power!

  • Shantrelle | June 1, 2013 9:48 AMReply

    Thank you Shadow and Act for alerting the greater public to this project!

    Since most comments in comment sections tend to be long-winded and not necessarily based on reality as much as assumptions, I'll try to keep my comments brief as possible.

    Unlike others, I'm not afraid when emerging artists aggressively seek challenging projects. Namely because they don't have anything to lose. In the case of Numa Perrier, who is not only a dear friend, but a very close colleague who I've worked with on numerous projects in a curator/artist relationship, her astounding and cutting edge work never ceases to amaze me. Numa is a rare kind of artist, in this case film director, who transcends genres and disciplines. Everything that she touches artistically, is doused in a bit of intellectual acumen, humor, unbridled raw boldness and magic. While the world is still being introduced to her sheer talent, her previous work speaks for itself - two of her films La Petit Mort and Judy - are nothing short of brilliant. When coupled with her visual art projects - Forsaken and "Audacious: The Lost Film + Fotography of Funk Diva Betty Davis" - there's no question as to how her vision brings to life some of the most nuanced and complicated stories.

    I'm happy that the late Ms. Hansberry's family was bold enough and daring enough to rely on the creativity and brilliance that is Numa Perrier.

    Personally, I can't wait to see what she does with this film.

    P.S. Knowing the artist that is Numa Perrier as well as I do, I know that she will not be afraid to speak truth when she breathes life into Lorraine Hansberry's story, in its most authentic and beautiful state, and certainly won't shy away expressing Ms. Hansberry's same-gender loving self on screen. That's the beauty of artists who are filmmakers. They don't have anything to lose and only something to gain unlike well-established industry film people who are oftentimes driven by commercial motivations and not necessarily higher expressions of truth telling and filmmaking.

    Numa, do the damn thing.

  • BluTopaz | June 1, 2013 12:47 PM

    Shantrelle, after reading your post I googled some of Numa's work that you mentioned. I was only able to find "Judy" which appears to be an experimental film. I was disappointed that I can't find much about the Betty Davis art project because the cover art is very intriguing.

    Really looking forward to this Hansberry biopic, Black American literary legends are not discussed and celebrated often.

  • CC | June 1, 2013 11:19 AM

    "Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. [Laughter] It's always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you, and Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world" ~ Martin Luther King Jr,.

    Listen, it's always nice to have someone say something good about you and you may be Numa's dear friend but lets look at a few facts. But first, I have to preface my comment by saying this is not an indictment against Numa's "abilities", however, I believe it behooves all of us to look at the big picture.

    Starting with Numa, the notion that she has nothing to lose is simply incorrect. History says an up and coming black director with a limited resume, will not be given numerous opportunities as their white counterparts. Speaking of her resume, La petite mort only had ONE cast member. "Judi" was a 8 min short with 2 cast members, Numa being one of them.

    And again, even if Ms Perrier is a budding star on the cusp of greatness, her resume, her skills as a director, the cast and the script will remain questionable... am just sayin'

  • Neri | June 1, 2013 5:09 AMReply

    I am just stunned at how negative and negativistic some commentators can be. I am looking forward to this project because Lorraine Hansberry's talent deserves celebration and it is great to see an African American of some intellectual heft, real achievement and talent get memorialized and introduced in a fresh way to a whole new generation who have probably never heard of her and think the best we have to offer is hiphoppers and reality t.v. exhibitionists( not that there's anything wrong with that, right?) Prior to Whoopi Goldberg's Acadamy Award nominated,classic, deeply moving portrayal of Celie in TCP, I am sure her name wasn't on anybody's mind as an actress capable of sustained dramatic depth. When I read some of these negative comments, Ivswear to G I can almost hear some of our less courageous ancestors talkin bout ' don't you git on dat underground railroad wid Harriet. She goan git us all kilt.' Sheesh. Give the negativity a rest and get behind and push or put your own excellent artistic endeavor out there.

  • CC | June 1, 2013 8:43 AM

    Whoopi Goldberg was assisted and surrounded by the best talents in the business. The Color Purple was adapted from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Stephen Spielberg is arguably one of the best directors of the last 40 years. So lets put this in the proper context. Your analogy/comparison fails to support your opinion. In fact, you're arguing for the "other" side. Case in point: The actors Danny Glover, Adolph Ceasar and Oprah Winfrey vs Issa Rae and Taye Hansberry? Stephen Spielberg vs Numa Perrier? The novel The Color Purple vs What?

    Granted, it's great to highlight African American intellectuals, but this is a film blog ( discussing the finer (or less than) points of movies), not a history class. The negativity you speak of is slightly misdirected and I must say, short-sighted.

    That said, I am reminded of one of my favorite pastries, Long John donuts. One day while rushing to work, I stopped by my local Kwik Shop. On the fast and hurry I grabbed a cup of coffee and a nice looking chocolate Long John. Upon eating my first big bite, I spit it out. It was filled with custard, and I hate custard. I should have asked somebody before I made my move too soon.

  • Miles Ellison | May 31, 2013 10:05 PMReply

    This will not end well.

  • Donella | May 31, 2013 9:49 PMReply

    I could accept the current collaboration on writing, but for actual performance, I agree it would be best to obtain experienced dramatic actors. I can't recall or remember if I've seen Jaleel White perform in a dramatic role, or the others.

  • CareyCarey | May 31, 2013 9:06 PMReply

    Reason for concern:

    1. Most black biopics fail to move me. Ray being the exception.

    2. I think we all can agree the fate of most biopics rest in the hands of the director. Numa Perrier's credentials would not put her at the head of the class.

    3. Issa Rae's involvement and acting is questionable.

    4. re: Taye Hansberry penning the script and starring in the title role, is a very slippery slope. That feat (being the writer and the main actor) has been accomplished on Broadway as one man shows, but I can't think of a movie in which it has been accomplished with great success?

    5. The best biopics have the best actors (proven actors) and budgets large enough to attract the best personnel across the board (i.e. set designers, cinematographers, professionals who can afford the luxury of being committed to a long shoot, music composers, seasoned directors, etc,). This production appears to be lacking in many areas.

    6. Some are saying Lorraine Hansberry's sexual preference is a given (is known by many). That's not true. I would venture to say most know little or nothing about her, other than the fact that she wrote "Raisin". More importantly, I don't understand why her sexuality would (or should ) be a significant point of interests? If one takes the time to search her most poignant artistic expressions, they surely WOULD NOT find the voice of a "lesbian". Seriously, I believe those who are crying for such inclusion are simply trying to move a personal agenda.

    7. Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.... Will Stewart is "attached" to Shonda Rhimes who's attached to Issa Rae. Talent takes a back seat in show business. Always has and always will.

    Lastly... "This makes me very nervous"


  • CareyCarey | June 1, 2013 2:19 PM

    Blutopaz, although I do love chicken wings and wrinkles too, I have no idea what you're talking about. But here's a picture of me eating those fine delicacies-->

  • BluTopaz | June 1, 2013 1:40 PM

    "I believe I've stayed out of that Nina Simone mess"

    Must have been one of your other screen names who forgot you logged in as Carey. S'ok.

    "Can't say the same for... you know... that yet to be seen script that you're defending like a blind pilgrim. "

    Which script are you referring to, this one? I merely said I'm looking forward to seeing it. And who cares if The Help was a best selling novel, it was mired in controversy because of various reasons that you pretend to overlook. This script, however, is actually collaborating with a descendant of the subject and is being written by a new filmmaker--yet you want to bullet list all the reasons you think it will fail. Who cares if Numa's resume is not that long, we all know if she was White you would be fighting for this project like it was the last chicken wing at the picnic.

    "They will talk a good game but half the time they can't define what they're actually crying about." I can imagine all the detailed analysis of different opinions are difficult to understand when you refuse to stop playing devil's advocate. That's s'ok also.

  • CareyCarey | June 1, 2013 1:03 PM

    Nope Blutopaz, my spirited friend, you have the wrong fellow. I believe I've stayed out of that Nina Simone mess. I may have jumped in the Marvin Gaye discussion, but I've never defended the writer/director in the numerous Simone posts. Nor have I called anyone "haters" in said posts. But if wish to run with your agenda, have at it, but am not the one.

    Now, to your other preposterous accusations, the issue (my concerns) was never whether or not the writers/directors were WHITE or BLACK, wth, banish that from your thoughts. If you read it fair, y'll find it there, Ray's director was not BLACK! And, that fiasco called Notorious was penned by a black man. Did you enjoy that film?

    And, truth be told, YOUR issue in The Help was nothing short of tunnel vision. As your title will attest (The Colored Help) , YOU were stuck (from the jump) on the issue of maids, domestics and the help. You refused to look at the issue in it's proper context because you-were-stuck-like-a-black-chuck on the issue of black actors playing maids.

    And, on the issue of defending a writer or the writing, it should be noted that The Help was a best selling book. Can't say the same for... you know... that yet to be seen script that you're defending like a blind pilgrim.

    Some negros kill me with their raised clinched black fist. They will talk a good game but half the time they can't define what they're actually crying about. Anyway, my position still stands, this production leave me very cautious. But hey, if they do the damn thang, I'll hug'em like I love'em.

    See you at the movies...

  • BluTopaz | June 1, 2013 12:16 PM

    "I think we all can agree the fate of most biopics rest in the hands of the director. Numa Perrier's credentials would not put her at the head of the class. "

    You have a laundry list of reasons here why you are suspect about this Hansberry project, but you pop up in every Zoe as Nina thread touting all the reasons why err'body is HATIN' on the movie: that is being written by a former costume designer writing her first feature, (who is also fabricating stories, totally dismissing the input of her subject's family, etc.), and that we as Black people should be more open minded, etc. Matter of fact, you did the same with The Colored Help. What's the difference between this Hansberry biopic and those, hmmm...? Those writers are White, and Numa Perrier is Black. And so is Taye Hansberry who's like, y'know, related to Lorraine Hansberry and is a collaborator on this film.

    Some of you folks with the fake negritude are so predictable it's hilarious.

  • Nadia | May 31, 2013 6:58 PMReply

    I have faith in Numa. I've been following her work since the art installations she used to put together in LA. The web series she's done for Black & Sexy TV aside, she's made some very interesting solo work. From what I've seen, she's very smart, talented and is passionate about art. I can't see her messing this up or not creating something that isn't interesting.

  • Orville | May 31, 2013 5:53 PMReply

    Hopefully, this biopic isn't going to ignore the fact Lorraine Hansberry was a lesbian. Everyone knows James Baldwin was gay but a lot of people don't know Lorraine Hansberry was a lesbian. A lot of black biopics have a tendency to ignore the homosexuality of black historical and cultural figures. Hansberry wrote for the lesbian publication the Ladder in the 1950s and she used her initials LH. Hansberry was very vocal about her lesbianism and only married her husband as a cover to hide her homosexuality.

    A lot of these black biopics always discuss the issue of race yet tend to ignore the sexual orientation which is important in order to discern the complexity of Lorraine Hansberry. It would be interesting to see if this biopic will examine how Lorraine negotiated her lesbianism with her racial identity.

  • Nadia | May 31, 2013 6:59 PM

    I'm sure they won't ignore something so obvious as her sexuality. It's a given.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 31, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    To be young, gifted and black.

  • Akimbo | May 31, 2013 4:16 PMReply

    This makes me very nervous, but I'm interested to see how it goes.

  • FactChecker | May 31, 2013 2:51 PMReply

    This looks great, although Issa Rae as Nina Simone is a total miscast and joke. Rae isn't even a REAL actress. She's more writer than entertainer. I hope Stewart reconsiders.

  • Akimbo | May 31, 2013 9:17 PM

    No. I've watched every episode of ABG & the number. She has plenty of dramatic, introspective, romantic, and other serious types of moments and she never delivers. You can be very serious about something and still not be very good at it. Not pigeonholing, just speaking on her performances. Rae has a lot of growing to do as an actor.

    I guess it's a competition to see how many ways Nina Simone can be miscast. First the girl who doesn't look the part, now the one who's just "dark enough," but can't really act. Next it'll be a sexy Asian man with an eyepatch.

  • Curtis Caesar John | May 31, 2013 4:37 PM

    I can assure that Issa Rae is a committed artist and wouldn't take this gig if she didn't take it seriously. Beyond that, these comments are like saying that a comedic voice can only be just that and that artists -actors, directors, etc - cannot grow beyond what you know them for. Jamie Foxx killed it as Ray Charles. Will Smith can even be dramatic when necessary, a la his role at Muhammad Ali. Robin Williams is no joke as a serious actor too. And not just in biopic like movies either. C'mon folks, there's ample evidence of this.

  • Akimbo | May 31, 2013 4:15 PM

    Harsh, but Issa isn't the best actress. Great comedic timing but no nuance or depth. Maybe Nina Simone will just the the BBF in the flick.

  • Open Minded | May 31, 2013 3:10 PM

    "A total miscast and joke?" Wow, harsh words. I am glad you weren't the one to determine whether or not I was given a chance to get my first job.

    What's wrong with giving Mrs. Rae the opportunity to exhibit what she is capable of? To be honest, you don't know for sure what the range of her acting abilities may be. I think that Mr. Stewart has proven his mettle with his ability to select great actors and actresses. Perhaps he, since it is his profession and all, knows something about or sees something in Ms. Rae that you have yet to.

  • Shanea | May 31, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    Now this is something I am definitely looking forward to seeing.

  • Sweeta | May 31, 2013 1:07 PMReply

    Wow! Very intrigued by this!!

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