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New Mahalia Jackson Biopic In Development

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 12, 2013 1:18 PM
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Mahalia Jackson

It's not the Mahalia Jackson film that Euzhan Palcy was all set to direct, with Fantasia Barrino starring - a project that I'd say is likely dead, after Jackson's family reportedly had second thoughts about Fantasia playing the part. 

This Mahalia Jackson project comes from screenwriter/director and college professor at Columbia College in Chicago, Vaun Monroe and Chicago filmmaker Ruth L Ratny, for Joyful Noise, LLC.

Further details based on the information I received, in brief...

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.  

The film will be shot in Chicago, and has the support of the mayor, civic, business and church leaders.

In the film, the singer rises through faith from her scrubwoman’s knees, to become the world’s greatest gospel singer, taking gospel out of churches into the mainstream throughout the world, including becoming the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, and the riches, fame and love that had previously eluded her, all come.    

In addition to fundraising, the film is currently casting, as Ratny and Monroe believe that the industry current climate which has seen a number of biopics (especially biopics based on the lives of black public personalities) produced, only bodes well for their chances on their Mahalia Jackson story. That, and also what might be considered a surge in commitment to catering to the faith-market.

I should add that Jackson was most recently featured in the documentary titled Rejoice And Shout, a film covered on Shadow And Act, which the filmmakers called the DEFINITIVE history of Gospel music, directed by Don McGlynn.

The film traces the history of gospel music from its beginnings on Southern plantations and Baptist churches to national prominence. Featuring a wealth of archival footage of legendary gospel acts such as Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta TharpeThe Staples Singers, and several others.

The filmmakers of this new Mahalia Jackson scripted film, are aiming for a late 2014 release - with Christmas being ideal, with good reason.

Stay tuned...

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  • Bill | July 1, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    I talked on the phone twice with Laurraine Goreau in the mid '70's about Mahalia and received a personal note from Ms. Goreau. Her book is the logical choice for a story about Jackson. It's fascinating and hard to put down. If I get rich, I will help fund the biopic . . . it's that worthwhile in order to introduce younger generations to the richness of New Orleans and in particular to Mahalia Jackson. Ms. Jackson took the time to write me a brief letter in 1969, which I still treasure.

  • Kevin | March 20, 2014 6:52 PMReply

    I forgot to include my contact info. if interested in leasing my Mahalia Jackson memorabilia collection for this project. Mail letter(s) of interest to:
    Gospel Memorabilia International
    214 East 85th Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90003

  • Kevin | March 20, 2014 6:39 PMReply

    I would love to see a tribute to this great gospel icon. I am the founder of Gospel Memorabilia International. I am more than willing to assist this project with my pristine Mahalia Jackson memorabilia collection. All my best to those involved in the making of this biopic masterpiece.

  • A.B. | February 11, 2014 1:56 AMReply

    There is no better person to play Mahalia than gospel and grammy winner, Le'Andria Johnson. She can sing anything and she can act. Look her up.

  • A.B. | February 11, 2014 1:56 AMReply

    There is no better person to play Mahalia than gospel and grammy winner, Le'Andria Johnson. She can sing anything and she can act. Look her up.

  • Josh | November 20, 2013 8:40 PMReply

    Though I think Fantasia would been great to play Mahalia Jackson, I'd rather see her play Aretha Franklin. She would be perfect for an Aretha Franklin biopic. She would also be perfect for a Patti LaBelle biopic and a Mahogany remake with Jamie Foxx.

  • Phill | September 14, 2013 11:36 AMReply

    If they don't raise the full 20, it could be an open door for a Countess Vaughn comeback.

  • ALM | September 12, 2013 9:44 PMReply

    Amber Riley from "Glee" could play a young Mahalia

  • Nadell | September 16, 2013 4:52 PM

    I agree w/ Riley playing a young Jackson.
    I also see Octavia Spencer playing Jackson.

  • oo | September 12, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    zoe saldana should play her

  • Stagolee | September 16, 2013 7:46 PM

    Very interested in seeing Octavia Spencer as Mildred, her accompanist.

  • Phill | September 14, 2013 11:33 AM


  • Geneva Girl | September 13, 2013 4:18 PM

    You're too funny!

  • Samantha | September 12, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    my little sister named after her Mahelia

  • FactChecker | September 12, 2013 4:06 PMReply

    @Blutoplaz You're so wrong. This is the perfect vehicle for Queen Latifah!
    She's also be great in a Pearl Bailey biopic. I can't imagine anyone else in this role,
    but QT!

  • CareyCarey | September 12, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    I hear what Blutopaz is saying and one never knows, but on a serious tip, I listen to gospel music on a daily basis, so let me give my opinion on the perfect choice to play Mahalia Jackson.

    First, there has been much debate on "singers" and rappers talking roles from trained actors. Well, the woman I have in mind has horned her skills and is a proven professional in both art forms. Additionally, since this film will play well to the faith-base market (read church folks) Tyler Perry's crowd is very familiar with this actress who got her start with the mega popular gospel group Kirk Franklin and The Family. So, without further ado, I present the actress who plays Deacon Leroy Browns wife in several of Tyler's stage productions, and who stars in the popular TV series Meet the Brown, the gospel singer Tamela J. Mann.

    She can blow, she can act and her body type is a perfect match.

  • A.B. | July 7, 2014 10:22 PM

    She acted in plays that I've seen on youtube. There's no reason for me to make anything up. That is the experience I can only speak of. You've got to start somewhere, right? Since u didn't know, look it up on yt.

  • CareyCarey | February 11, 2014 2:25 AM

    A.B., you're joking, right? First, anyone who knows anything about Gospel music knows LeAndria Johnson. I have both of her CD's. But, it's a surprise to hear that she can act or has ever performed as an actor? In fact, it's only been 3 years since she won Sunday's Best, so when and where did she acquire the acting skills you're referring to?

    Come on now, watch what you say cuz S&A's readers have been somewhere.

  • A.B. | February 11, 2014 2:02 AM

    She is definitely professional and has vocal skills as you say, but it is hard for me to think of her as Mahalia Jackson. Her skin color is NOT there. She is light skinned, Mahalia is brown-dark skinned. Come I don't think they will put dark makeup on her light face to look like Mahalia. Le'Andria Johnson would be my choice. She's the same skin color, she can sang like nobody's business, and she can act.

  • CC | September 12, 2013 3:34 PM

    For those who aren't familiar with her voice or do not watch Tyler Perry's productions, here she is at the 2013 Trumpet Awards -->

  • BluTopaz | September 12, 2013 2:25 PMReply

    Brace ourselves now for the #NikkiMinajCastAsMahalia uproar.

    And no, Queen Latifah wouldn't be any better.

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