Revisting this post as I do at least once a year to see where the list stands. My last update was August 2013, so it's been a little while.
There are more than 50 biopics on the lives of black public figures, based on the S&A archives - the majority of them first announced in the last 3 - 4 years, and, unfortunately, so few of them will actually, eventually see the light of day.
Some of these figures even have more than 1 film project in the works that will center on their lives; a few have as many as 4 or 5.
It's not necessarily mind-boggling, but, with each new project announcement, one can't help but be skeptical that any will receive the necessary backing, and be seen all the way through production.
Based on our reporting, I'd say that the hold-up for most of them is financial. Some have already been scripted, and have actors attached, but financiers apparently aren't convinced enough to invest in them.
Others have rights hurdles to get past; and still some face challenges/objections from family members, estates, or other powerful, influential voices.
A few have already been produced, but are without distribution (at least, stateside distribution); another 1 or 2 reportedly have the financial backing necessary to go into production, and are scheduled to do so soon, but as we've seen happen with at least one of those *sure-things*, anything can happen leading up to already-announced principal photography start dates, to send the project back into Limbo.
Some of the names have seen successful feature documentaries made about their lives (or documentaries currently in development), but progress on feature scripted narratives that were once announced, isn't certain in every case.
On-screen depictions of a few of these names will happen in films centered on other real-life figures (in most cases, white people); essentially, they'll be supporting characters in someone else's story.
And on, and on, and on...
As I said already, it really makes one skeptical whenever new bio projects are announced, and each is easily dismissed as more of a dream than something that will eventually be realized, especially in the current climate.
But then a question worth asking is whether we really need, or rather if there's a large enough audience for films on every single one of these men and women.
I'm much less interested in what I call birth-to-death stories, and would prefer to see filmmakers tackle specific periods of a subject's life - maybe cover a period of years in which the person being profiled was at their career peak, or went through some tragic, life-changing experience. Or maybe even select a single interesting week, or a day in that person's life.
It's a fool's errand trying to capture an entire life in 2 hours, and those traditional, conventional biopics tend to be rather boring. At least I think so.
Below you'll find the full list of the all the biopic projects we know of, with new additions announced since the last time I updated this list, and a sentence updating you on what we know of each one as of today. A few of them finally moved on to production, and will be released this year. And there has been some movement on others, but nothing to get too excited about yet. However, the majority are still in Limbo:
- John Coltrane - We already told you about long-time Spike Lee editor (as well as director and producer in his own right) Sam Pollard's John Coltrane documentary, which is currently in production, and has been for a few years now (we first learned about it in 2012), titled "A Love Supreme: A Portrait of John Coltrane in 4 Parts." The film is said to be based on the critically-acclaimed book "A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album" by music journalist Ashley Kahn. It will reportedly be structured in the same way as Coltrane's influential 1964 album of the same name. The album is divided into four parts: "Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm." It will feature interviews with Coltrane's band-mates and friends, as well as historians and music journalists, artists, and people of faith who were inspired by the album. Also, and interestingly, Pollard has said that he plans to use animation to help tell Coltrane's story, and I'm very curious as to how he plans to implement/incorporate. I put the film on my Sundance 2015 predictions list, but it doesn't look like it'll premiere there. There's a second project - director John Scheinfeld ("The U.S. vs. John Lennon," "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson" and more) is developing a film on Coltrane, to be produced by Spencer Proffer, via his Meteor 17 company. The filmmakers aim to make a film that "humanizes" Coltrane, and not a work of hagiography.
- Destiny's Child - Courtesy of the Sony email hack-attack last year, we learned that the studio has (or maybe I should say "had") interest in a Destiny's Child biopic. In a December 2013 group email from Screen Gems chief Clint Culpepper to Sony Co-Chairman Amy Pascal and other Sony execs, they discussed Beyoncé’s father, Matthew Knowles' attempts to set up a Destiny’s Child biopic at the studio. Although there seemed to be some initial trepidation from Culpepper, responses from the other Sony execs were very enthusiastic about the idea. No word, however, on whether this is a project that's still of interest to the studio. Culpepper does state that Papa Knowles planned to also approach Universal Pictures about the project - I assume, to put some pressure on Sony to make a decision (as in, "if you're not interested, I'll take it somewhere else").
- Paul Robeson - We know of 2 different projects. In the first one, David Harewood is attached to star, with Sydney Tamiia Poitier (daughter of Sidney Poitier) playing his wife, Eslanda ("Essie") Goode Robeson. Louis Gossett Jr. will portray W.E.B. Du Bois in the independently-produced film which is to be directed by South African director Darrell Roodt (Winnie). Shooting was set to begin last year. The second hails from Steve McQueen, who revealed in an interview late last year, that he plans to direct a feature film based on the life of Paul Robeson, saying that it will indeed be his next feature directorial effort (he's currently working on an HBO series, previously covered on this blog). Harry Belafonte is involved in the project, although we don't yet know in what capacity exactly. I'd guess, as a producer/consultant, given that Belafonte and Robeson were pals. McQueen added: "We’re very fortunate that we’re on a roll together to make this dream a reality. Miracles do happen. With Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, things have come full circle." He didn't share what actors he may be eyeing for the part.
- Vanessa del Rio - 2 years ago, we alerted you to a Vanessa del Rio biopic that was in development at the time, titled "The Amazing Life of Vanessa del Rio," which the producers described as "Boogie Nights" meets "Taxi Driver." The movie will chronicle the porn star’s career set against the backdrop of NYC's then gritty organized crime-controlled Times Square, during the tumultuous 1970s & 1980s. To be directed by Thomas Mignone, best known for several award-winning music videos for bands like Slipknot, Mudvayne, System Of A Down, and Sepultura, the production has cast the actress who will play del Rio: Zulay Henao, who co-starred in Tyler Perry’s "The Single Moms Club." Also Datari Turner will be one of the film's producers, alongside Arthur Sarkissian.
- 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 stuffshelikes.net), 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 was set to play Nina Simone, a close friend of Lorraine until her death.
- Queen Latifah is attached to star in a biopic on the life of Peggielene Bartels, the then 55-year-old Ghanaian American secretary (in 2008), living in a modest one-bedroom condo just outside Washington D.C., who learned that she had become the King of Otuam, a small fishing village on the coast of Ghana. The story goes... The previous king of Otuam, who was Bartels's uncle, had just died. The village elders, who remembered Bartels from the times she'd visited with her mother, decided to anoint her as their new ruler. After the initial shock, Bartels decided to accept the kingship, and after working for nearly three decades as an Administrative Assistant at the Ghanaian Embassy in the United States, went back to Ghana to wear her King crown, becoming King Peggy - the first female king of Otuam, reigning over approximately 7,000 people! Upon arriving for her crowning ceremony in Otuam, she discovered the dire reality: there's no running water, no hospital, no schools, and many of the village elders are corrupt. To make matters worse, her uncle (the late king) sits in a morgue awaiting a proper funeral in the royal palace, which is in ruins. And over the following few years, she not only transformed herself, but the community she ruled over as well. Her story was documented in a book titled, aptly, "King Peggy," which Will Smith reportedly bought the rights to, for Queen Latifah to star in.
- Sylvia Robinson - the singer, songwriter and record producer, who formed the pioneering hip-hop group Sugarhill Gang and made the first commercially successful rap recording with them, who died at 75 years old, in September 2011, of congestive heart failure, after being in a coma. She built a successful career as an R&B singer before she and her husband, Joe Robinson, formed Sugar Hill Records in the 1970's, and went on to nurse a musical genre that came to dominate mainstream music. In the late 1960s, Ms. Robinson became one of the few women to produce records in any genre when she and her husband founded All Platinum Records. She played an important role in the development of the group The Moments, producing their 1970 hit single "Love on a Two-Way Street." But her greatest achievement was her decision in 1979 to produce a recording in what was then a considered a new musical art form known as rapping, masterminding the Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight," the first hip-hop single to become a commercial hit. Some call her “the mother of hip-hop.” Producer Paula Wagner acquired the film rights to Sylvia Robinson's life story, last year, with plans to produce a biopic on the hip-hop pioneer. Sylvia’s son, Joey Robinson (administrator of the Sylvia Robinson Estate), will executive produce, while music executive Robert Kraft with co-produce. Grandmaster Melle Mel will serve as consultant to Joey Robinson. The film is expected to cover much of her life and professional career, and will include music from the era during which she made her mark - especially those she was responsible for.
- A biopic based on the life of singer/songwriter Bobby Womack, who died a couple of months ago, is in development, under the supervision of his longtime manager and friend Don Smalls. Smalls says he already has a 120-page script that Womack approved before his death, adding, in a press statement, with regards to casting, that, "There has been talk of Mos Def and Samuel L. Jackson, but we're also interested in casting an unknown." Active since the early 1960s, when he started his career as the lead singer of his family musical group, the Valentinos, and as Sam Cooke's back-up guitarist, Womack's career spanned more than 50 years, and several genres, including R&B, soul, rock and roll, doo-wop, gospel, and country. He wrote and originally recorded the Rolling Stones' first UK No. 1 hit, "It's All Over Now," and New Birth's "I Can Understand It" among other songs. "I think with the right producer and director, this could be a real blockbuster," Don Smalls also said.
- Oscar Micheaux - Currently in development are: writer/director JD Walker's Micheaux feature film (a scripted project we first alerted you to a couple of years ago), titled "Oscar Micheaux: Negro Pioneer;" and a feature documentary called "Oscar's Comeback," directed by Lisa Collins, which takes a look at a festival celebrating a Micheaux - a festival in an all-white town (Gregory, South Dakota).
- Nat Turner led a slave rebellion, hoping to inspire a slave uprising in the south. Several dozen whites were killed before the revolt was defeated. Turner was later capture, tried and hanged. Soon after Turner's execution, a local lawyer, Thomas Ruffin Gray, took it upon himself to publish "The Confessions of Nat Turner," derived partly from research done while Turner was in hiding and partly from prison conversations with Turner before trial. 182 years later, many of us are still waiting for a definitive film based on Nat Turner's historic revolt (and not necessarily a Nat Turner biopic) to be produced. Maybe the most notable that currently exists is the hour-long documentary, "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property," directed by Charles Burnett, and released in 2003, which played the festival circuit, and eventually aired on PBS about a year later. However it's not the full-length, scripted, big screen project that many have been hoping for. You will also recall William Styron's 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning, though deeply problematic novel, "The Confessions of Nat Turner," which Norman Jewison almost directed an adaptation of, in the late 1960's, starring James Earl Jones as Nat Turner. Styron, to put it simply, imagined Turner as a fictional character, and as you'd expect, the project was met with what Jewison called an "incredibly angry exchange of ideas" with black revolutionaries at the time, who objected to the idea of a white director directing the film, as well as distortions of historical facts in Styron's book. Needless to say, the film never happened, and thank goodness for that! Currently, maybe the most promising project that we know is definitely, currently in development, is the one Nate Parker is working on. As he told us in an interview while plugging his last film, "Non-Stop" (the Liam Neeson airplane actioner) earlier last year: "One of my biggest passions is to play Nat Turner. That's a project that we're working to get done. A lot of people thought he was a bad guy, but it's perspective. I don't think he was a bad guy at all, but we all have our ideas of what we want and why we want it, and what we'll do to achieve those things." That was in February. Parker would later emphasize his desire to see the project realized in a New York Times interview this yearm in which he revealed a little more useful info, stating: "I’m directing a film in the fall, a biopic on Nat Turner, who led the most successful slave revolt in American history. I call it the black “Braveheart.” I wrote the script, I’m starring. That’s where I want to go. The goal for me is to push the envelope always." We later learned that the film will be called "The Birth of a Nation" (I can only guess as a reaction/response to D.W. Griffith's incendiary 1915 film of the same title). And what makes the project's completion even more likely is that it was the recipient of a fellowship with the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program this year.
- T.D. Jakes' budding media empire can now add a movie based on the life of Antoinette Tuff, which is set up at Sony, and which tells the real-life story of the extraordinary human drama Tuff lived through, grabbing headlines around the world. The bookkeeper, an eight-year veteran of the DeKalb County school district, talked suspect Michael Brandon Hill into surrendering after a brief standoff with police, last summer. Faced with the armed 20-year-old who told her he was off his medication for a mental disorder, Tuff shared stories of heartbreak from her own life to help calm him down. After that brave incident, Antoinette became a media sensation (and rightfully-so). She even visited with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, met with global business and political leaders to tell her story and share her wisdom on how to use judgment in crisis and not just pass judgment in a heated moment. She also has started a non-profit organization, called Kids on the Move for Success, and has written a book titled "Prepared for a Purpose: The Inspiring True Story of How One Woman Saved an Atlanta School Under Siege," which is now available for purchase at your favorite on- or offline bookstore.
- Singer/actress Toni Braxton is set to star as Darlene Love in OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's first scripted TV film "My Name is Love: The Darlene Love Story. " Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and filmmaker Morgan Neville ("Twenty Feet From Stardom"), "My Name is Love: The Darlene Love Story" features the story of one of the 1960’s iconic musical voices, Darlene Love. Love began cutting records for producer Phil Spector right out of high school, and went on to work with some of the greatest musical talents in history, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen. Including her love affair with Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers, Love's "dishy and dramatic" story is one of a woman who had it all, lost it all, but never, ever refused to give up. Toni Braxton, most recently seen on Broadway in the musical revue "After Midnight," will star in the title role.But that's not all!
- A film based on the true story of Bob Marley and the Wailers is in the works, set up at Mandalay Pictures, with writer Barry Morrow ("Rain Man") and producer Cathy Schulman ("Crash") both said to be attached to the project. Titled "Buffalo Soldiers" (named after song written by Bob Marley), the biopic, as it's being described, will follow Marley and the Wailers and their many struggles faced on their way to eventual success. The title and lyrics refer to the black U.S. cavalry regiments, known as "Buffalo Soldiers", that fought in the American Indian Wars in the last 1800s/early 1900s. Marley's song turned their fight for survival into a symbol of black resistance. The Wailers was created by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1963, to be later joined by Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith. The group eventually disbanded, and Bob Marley began touring with new band members. No word on what the exact status of the project is, other than it's been set up at Mandalay with the above names attached, meaning it may or may not happen. We'll just have to wait and see.
- It's quite incredible to think that an actor of Jeffrey Wright's caliber has yet to be nominated for the highest honor in the film industry, the Academy Award. He's been recognized by the Emmys, the Tonys, and the Golden Globes, winning trophies in all 3 cases. But an Oscar nomination (forget about the "winning" part), has eluded him thus far. Maybe this will be the role that finally puts him squarely in Academy voters' sights, whenever it's eventually completed and released in theaters. Mr Wright is in talks to play renowned Tulsa, OK evangelical minister Carlton Pearson, who stirred up controversy some years ago, with his revelation that, essentially, there is no hell. Branded a heretic by his peers in 2004, Pearson would eventually lose almost everything, and would have to fight to not only rebuild his church, but also his family, as well as find and establish his own personal path. Tentatively titled "Come Sunday" (it's also known as "Heretics"), the film will be directed by a filmmaker who's no stranger to acclaim himself, Jonathan Demme, from a script penned by Marcus Hinchey. Also, Robert Redford is in talks to play Oral Roberts in the film - the connection there being that Pearson attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, where he was mentored by Oral Roberts.
- Last summer, principal photography was said to be underway in South Africa on "Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu," which Thabo Rametsi is starring in. Marking the 35th anniversary of the execution of Mahlangu, and directed by Mandla Walter Dube from his screenplay (co-written with Leon Otto), the film tells the story of Mahlangu, member of the ANC (African National Congress), born 1956, and killed in 1979, after he was wrongfully accused of murder of two white civilians in Johannesburg two years prior, and was executed by hanging despite calls from local and international organizations for him to be pardoned - an execution that sparked international protest and condemnation of South Africa’s internal policies. Before he was hanged, Mahlangu's famous last words were: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the fight.” He was just 23 years old. Along with Rametsi, Thabo Malema and Louw Venter also star, with Solomon’s brother Lucas Mahlangu serving as adviser to the production. Funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund for Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Department of Trade & Industry’s Film Incentive Scheme, the Department of Arts and Culture, and the National Film & Video Foundation, the film is being produced by Walter Ayres and director Dube, and will shoot on location in and around Pretoria and Johannesburg for six weeks. I'd expect an early 2015 debut.
- Last year, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson shared that he was producing a film on the B.M.F. - an acronym which stands for the notorious Black Mafia Family; a drug cartel that was created in Detroit, Michigan in the late 1980s, by Demetrius "Big Meech" and Terry Flenory. Over the following decade, their organization grew into a hugely successful nationwide enterprise. Soon after, they began to use their financial gains to branch out into other businesses, like creating a hip-hop music label called BMF Entertainment, promoting the careers of a few artists, some fairly well known, like Young Jeezy. But the castle they built all came crashing down in the mid-2000s, when they were busted, indicted and convicted on charges of running a criminal enterprise that allegedly grossed over $270 million during the period of its existence. Both brothers were sentenced to prison for 30 years to life. Other members of their organization would also face jail sentences. That's the shortened version of their story - one that's long been rumored to be the subject of a feature film that has yet to materialize, 5 years after we first alerted you to it on this blog.
- Shirley Bassey - Director Marc Evans is helming it. It was selected as one of 25 feature narrative projects in IFP's 2012 Project Forum Transatlantic Partners’ Projects), as well as the 15th edition of Strategic Partners, an international summit where projects are paired up with producers, most recently.
- Pelé - Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are producing a project based on a recommendation by New York Cosmos soccer club chairman Paul Kemsley, who owns the life story rights to Pelé. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist penned the screenplay, and are directing the film as well. Principal photography took place in 2013, in Brazil, with the goal being to release the film prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It didn't happen.
- Rafael Padilla - Omar Sy is attached to play the lead role in a French-Language film titled "Chocolat," a biopic of the former Cuban-born slave, who became the first black artist in France during the Belle Epoque era. No word on any movement on this one. Sy's been quite busy lately, with a handful of projects.
- Marvin Gaye - of the 4+ Marvin Gaye projects we know of, the only one that appears to still have life will star Jesse L Martin directed by Julien Temple. Most recently, in 2013, it was announced that Focus Features International, the company that picked up the project, and shopped it at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, pulled out of the production, which was then put on hiatus (reasons weren't clear, although I figured it had something to do with financing), despite a reported 70% of the shoot already complete. Since that 2013 report, I haven't heard or read anything to confirm that production is back on track.
- Bessie Smith - The Dee Rees-directed Bessie Smith biopic, which stars Queen Latifah stars in the title role, joined by Mo’Nique, Khandi Alexander, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Michael K. Williams, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, and Bryan Greenberg, will premiere on HBO some time this year. Previously titled "Blue Goose Hollow" (the area in Chattanooga, Tennessee where Smith was born and raised), the film will be a biography of Smith, considered by many to be the greatest blues singer of all time. It will debunk many of the myths that have circulated about her since her untimely death in 1937. HBO, The Zanuck Company, Shelby Stone Productions and Latifah's Flavor Unit Entertainment are all producers of the project, which, as of today, doesn't yet have a premiere date.
- Nina Simone - Zoe Saldana replaced Mary J. Blige in Cynthia Mort's film, which has yet to debut. Last yearm Mort filed a lawsuit this week against the British producer of the film, Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited, claiming that the company effectively cut Mort out of the decision making process during production, and, as a result, she is not at all happy with the version which is about to be screened for distributors. According to the lawsuit, Mort had rights over the developing picture and "got approval over the final shooting script, the cast and crew, the line producer, the designer and all department head as well as consulting rights on advertising, distribution, shooting schedule and budget." However, as the suit further states, "throughout the course of the film's production and post-production, defendants consistently acted to frustrate Mort's involvement in the film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement. These breaches by the Defendants include, but are not limited to: taking complete control of editing the Film in June 2013 and failing to consult with Mort about subsequent cuts and changes; abandoning Mort's previous cuts of the Film; failing to disclose the Film's financials, finishing budget, and financing deals; and failing to keep Mort informed of other crucial creative and budgetary developments and decisions throughout production and post-production of the Film." And further, apparently the film was supposed to have already been released, which obviously hasn't happened. Mort is seeking monetary damages (the amount isn't public yet), as well as "a declaration that the defendants can't make decisions without her meaningful approval and consultation."
- Aretha Franklin - Really, only Aretha Franklin herself has been trying to get this made, with Halle Berry as her #1 choice to star, followed by Jennifer Hudson and Audra McDonald. No word on where exactly this stands. Although, last summer, Franklin revealed publicly that she'd met with Lifetime channel executives in New York, to discuss her biopic (one that's been in development for what feels like an eternity). She didn't share what came of her meeting with Lifetime, other than to say that they were "very, very close to signatures." But I won't at all be surprised if a deal was struck, given the network's recent interest in biopics based on the lives of black public figures. For example, "Betty & Coretta," Gabby Douglas, Whitney Houston, and Aaliyah. There have also been several Lifetime movies telling stories centered on the lives of black characters, like the all-black remake of "Steel Magnolias," "A Day Late and a Dollar Short," "Abducted," and more. Clearly the network is interested (and has likely found much success) in targeting African American audiences with its original movies. An Aretha Franklin biopic would certainly fit - depending on how Franklin herself imagines the project's look and feel.
- Pam Grier - Rights to her autobiography have been optioned and a script adaptation is said to be in development.
- Hank Aaron - director Barry Levinson is developing a project, which was first announced in the spring of 2012.
- Tupac - Antoine Fuqua seemed to be close to getting his project off the ground 3 years ago; but then he walked away from it; and there was talk of John Singleton taking over. 2+ years ago, I received an email from a trusted source, telling me that the project was still very much alive, adding that a production start date of some time in 2013 was expected, with Morgan Creek still behind the project. The source also noted that Afeni Shakur was co-producing the film. Nothing since then however. Until last year, when it was announced that Singleton had closed a deal to re-write, direct and produce the film, which will center on the last day of Tupac's life, with flashback sequences included that will show the previous years leading up to his death. And last year, I also learned of another Tupac project - also a feature film - titled "The Rise And Fall Of Makavelli The Don," written by Shakur's cousin, William Lesane, which he plans to produce. Lesane said that he was sitting on "a commitment of $15 million" from a Giovanni De Francisci of the Petschek Trust, and Monegasque Movie Productions, to finance the project, with principal photography set for New Mexico. But no specific start date was given.
- Michael Jackson - around the time of his death, there was talk both here in the USA and in the UK of Michael Jackson biopics being in development (of course we got a couple of documentaries). Nothing definite.
- Mahalia Jackson - Euzhan Palcy was all set to direct one with Fantasia starring. I'd say it's dead, after Jackson's family had second thoughts about Fantasia playing the part. Nothing definite here either. There is now a second project, which hails from screenwriter/director and college professor at Columbia College in Chicago, Vaun Monroe and Chicago filmmaker Ruth L Ratny, for Joyful Noise, LLC. It'll be based on Mahalia’s seminal biography, "Just Mahalia, Baby," which is the source for most of the information publicly available about the gospel diva’s life and music. It was authored by Mahalia’s friend, Laurraine Goreau, a distinguished New Orleans writer and editor, who had access to a lifetime of Mahalia memorabilia.The filmmakers are hoping to eventually attract the $20 million in funding that will be necessary to make the kind of film that they believe Jackson deserves, and say that a small percentage of that figure has already been raised.
- ODB - RZA was supposedly shepherding an Old Dirty Bastard project, and said a couple of years or so ago that Tracey Morgan and Eddie Griffin were both in contention for the starring role (Michael K. Williams will play him in an upcoming film that's NOT specifically about ODB, however).
- Whitney Houston - Since her recent death, there's been talk (and denial) of a biopic on her life, with names from Rihanna to Vivica Fox said to be on the short list of actresses to play her. Clive Davis later said that he wasn't aware of any Whitney biopics. Last year, Lifetime ordered a Whitney Houston film, covering the late 80's to early 90's, with Yaya DaCosta starring in the title role. It premieres later this month.
- Florence Ballard - Jurnee Smollet was reportedly attached to play the ex-Supreme, with Beyonce's sister, Solange Knowles in the role of Diana Ross. No movement.
- Sammy Davis Jr - 4 years ago, it was announced that Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios acquired rights to his life story from his daughter Tracey Davis, with plans to develop both a feature film AND a stage production. Later, it was reported that Lee Daniels had been circling an HBO Sammy Davis Jr. project. It wasn't clear whether the HBO project had any connection to Byron Allen's. A year after the Byron Allen announcement, a $35+ million lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles, by independent producer Rick Appling against Byron Allen and his Entertainment Studios, claiming that he (Appling) owns the rights the Sammy Davis Jr's life story, not Allen, and that Allen screwed him over royally!
- Jesse Owens - Anthony Mackie long tried to make a film on Owens, calling it his dream project. Most recently, John Boyega, who also attached to another Owens film, had to step down as well, because of his new commitment to "Star Wars: Episode VII." He was been replaced by Stephan James (he plays John Lewis in "Selma") to play Jesse Owens in the biopic titled "Race," from Forecast Pictures and ID+. I should note that this is not the Jesse Owens biopic that Anthony Mackie has long been trying to make; nor is it the Antoine Fuqua/Disney Jesse Owens project, based on ESPN anchor Jeremy Schaap's book, "Triumph" - making it the 3rd Jesse Owens project in development. Which will make it to the finish line first?
- Miles Davis - Don Cheadle finally raised the funds he needed to get his project produced, after many years in limbo. I expect it'll be out some time this year. But there's a second Miles Davis film in the works, which George Tillman Jr is attached to direct. The film will be loosely based on Gregory Davis' book, "Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis" (Gregory Davis being Miles Davis' eldest son). The plan for Tillman's project, which will be called "Miles Davis, Prince of Darkness," is to produce a more conventional biopic (the producers previously mentioned "Walk The Line" and "Ray" as potential models that they'll follow).
- Barbara Jordan - Viola Davis is attached to star as the late congresswoman with Paris Barclay directing. No movement there since that announcement 2 years ago.
- Marion Barry - Spike Lee and Eddie Murphy were developing a project for HBO. No movement.
- Charley Pride - Dwayne Johnson was said to be attached to star in a biopic on the country music star. Johnson's been incredibly busy with numerous projects. But no movement on this one.
- Marcus Garvey - There were rumors that Don Cheadle was developing one with Kevin Navayne starring. Cheadle later denied those rumors. But who knows...
- NWA - F. Gary Gray is working on one, with Ice Cube and Dr Dre producing. it's scheduled for released in August of this year.
- Louis Armstrong - in 2008, Forest Whitaker announced that he was planning to star in and direct a film based on the life of the jazzman, which he was supposed to start filming a year later. It didn't happen, and hasn't happened.
- B.B. King - 3 years ago Wendell Pierce announced that he was attached to star as King in a project. But there was some issue with the real-life King, who apparently hadn't approved of the film. Pierce later said that he wouldn't make any film about B.B. King without King's blessing.
- Fela - Steve McQueen's project, which Chiwetel Ejiofor was once attached to star in, is dead, with Andrew Dosunmu taking over. It's been at least 4 years since the project was first announced. It still might happen, although with the shake-up at Focus Features last year (the company behind the production), I won't hold my breath.
- Hattie McDaniel - Mo'nique purchased life rights to the late actress years ago, and once said she wanted Lee Daniels to direct. No movement.
- Shirley Chisolm - Shola Lynch's excellent documentary aside, both Viola Davis and Regina King have been said to be attached to star as Chisolm in a scripted biopic. Nothing more to say here.
- Thelonius Monk - A passion project for Denzel Washington, which he said, earlier last year, he has a script for. But no director nor financing yet... that we know of.
- Milli Vanilli - At least 2 have been announced over the last decade, with Brett Ratner at one time said to be attached to direct back in 2007, and later German filmmaker Florian Gallenberger. No movement on either.
- Sam Cooke - Announced 2 years ago, an adaptation of Peter Guralnick's 2005 bio "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke," is in development. In 2013, the last time we heard anything about the project, we learned exclusively that Carl Franklin was attached to write and direct. No ETA yet.
- "Freeway" Rick Ross - a "Traffic"-like biopic on the life of 1980s drug dealer has been in the works for a few years now, with Nick Cassavetes (son of indie film trailblazer John Cassavetes) reportedly directing.
- Richard Pryor - Chris Rock was producing a project with Marlon Wayans attached to star. That was first announced 3-4 years ago. A couple of years later, Forest Whitaker took over the project (as producer). And, last year, Lee Daniels was announced as director, with The Weinstein Company producing, and Mike Epps starring. Nick Cannon, as well as Michael B. Jordan and Marlon Wayans (who was attached to star in the project before it changed producer hands), were also in contention for the part under Daniels' direction. Also, Oprah Winfrey will play Marie Carter, Pryor's grandmother, and Kate Hudson will play Jennifer Lee Pryor in the film. It's also worth noting that, Richard Pryor's son threatened legal action in a move to block production on Daniels' in-development film about the legendary comic. Lawyers representing Richard Pryor, Jr. reportedly sent a cease and desist letter to Pryor's (the father's) widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, who is involved in the making of the film. The letter, obtained by TMZ, insists that all work on the project stop, accusing Jennifer Lee of using "illegal, fraudulent" activity to obtain the rights to her husband's story. Pryor Jr. is also reportedly threatening to take legal action, if the biopic does moves forward.
- Sugar Ray Robinson - Wil Haygood's acclaimed biography "Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson" was optioned in 2010 to be adapted. In 2013, "Moneyball" producer Racheal Horowitz, and "Game Change" screenwriter Danny Strong, were said to be moving ahead with the project, with David Oyelowo now tapped to star.
- Joe Louis - Spike Lee's been trying to get his project ("Save Us, Joe Louis") produced forever. Also, announced last year, the producing team behind recent sports-related Broadway shows - like "Lombardi," about the Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, and "Magic/Bird," about the friendship between basketball legends Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird - acquired exclusive global, theatrical and movie rights to boxing great Joe Louis' life story. But no specifics on any planned projects, whether for the stage of for screen. Spike's film was to focus on the life and times of the heavyweight champ, a project he was said to be set to shoot the summer after the project was initially announced, in 2000, after famously losing out to Michael Mann for the job of directing Warner Bros' Muhammad Ali biopic, which starred Will Smith. Lee had acquired the rights to Louis' life story from the late champ's son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr, and was developing the script in tandem with boxing expert Bert Randolph Sugar and sceenwriting legend Budd Schulberg. It was to focus on the political implications of Louis' reign as heavyweight champ, with particular focus on his two battles with the German heavyweight Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938. Lee planned to concentrate on the symbolic roles that both men played - Louis, a hero for Black Americans in then a segregated America, and Schmeling, touted by Hitler as the ultimate Nazi fighting machine. Now that rights to Louis' story officially no longer belong to Spike, what might that mean for "Save Us, Joe Louis"? Maybe the duo who now own the rights will consider Spike as director of any feature films they decide to make on Louis' life. Maybe they'll get behind "Save Us, Joe Lewis."
- Jim Brown - Spike Lee previously said he had a project on Brown in the works. However, in 2012, producer Hal Lieberman ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," "Vacancy") acquired rights to the football legend/actor's life story for a feature film to be written by Bob Eisele ("The Great Debaters") and directed by Jonathan Hock. No ETA yet.
- Dr. S. Allen Counter (the African-American neuroscience professor) - One of many projects that was on Will Smith's upcoming slate of films; Debbie Allen is/was also involved in some capacity. Nothing new to report here.
- Oprah Winfrey - To be based on Kitty Kelley's 2010 unauthorized bio about her (which we profiled on this blog). Rights to the book were optioned in a 6-figure deal, by one Larry Thompson, who's produced previous biopics on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Sonny and Cher, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Thompson planned to develop the project as a TV movie or miniseries, with its debut scheduled to coincide with Oprah's final syndicated episode in September 2011. Never happened. So it's likely dead.
- George Weah - in 2010, actor Dermot Mulroney was said to be working on a biopic on the life of Liberian soccer star-turned-politician. Nothing doing here.
- Laurie Cunningham - a biopic on the black British soccer star was announced in 2010. Anthony Mackie and Ashley Walters have been mentioned as possible candidates. No word on whether it's still alive.
- Buddy Bolden - Another Anthony Mackie project that's been in development for a long time. 2 years ago, the director, Dan Pritzker, said he wasn't in any rush to get it finished, and gave a timeline of 12-18 months. Mackie most recently told us that he was finished with it. The actor was replaced by the British actor who played "Downton Abbey's" first black character, Gary Carr. So maybe a 2015 debut.
- Rick James - In 2009, his daughter Ty James hinted at an actor with the initials T.H. that she said was in talks to star in a biopic on the musician's life. We guessed that T.H. was Terrence Howard. But nothing's happening here.
- Mike Tyson - Well, HBO passed on Spike's "Da Brick," although it wasn't specifically a Tyson biopic. But for years now, Jamie Foxx has been pushing to star in a film on Tyson's life, and Tyson has given him his blessing. Last year, Tyson himself said that he's been meeting with Foxx, and the two are working together to bring the project to life. Specifically, Tyson revealed publicly that the project is indeed in motion, and he hoped principal photography kicks off some time in 2015 or soon thereafter. The obvious question here is: how will a 46 year old Jamie Foxx will play a Mike Tyson during his amateur and professional boxing days (from his teens to his early 20s)? They say "black don't crack," but Jamie Foxx, while he looks great for 46, certainly cannot pass for a 15 to 25 year old, which would be the age range he'd have to play, given that these were Tyson's active years as a boxer.
That's it... for now!
There are more, I'm sure. But these are the projects buried in the S&A archives, which was my sole source.
However, I won't be shocked if the total number pushes close to 100+ projects, most of them in Limbo.
So, once again, I ask, which of those yet-to-be-produced project would you like to see finally made and released? Which do you think should be buried? Which do you think have the best shot at being made?