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Scottsboro Boys Names To Be Cleared - What Happened To Lee Daniels' Musical Adaptation?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act March 19, 2013 at 12:54PM

Quite timely and certainly topical. I'm sure we're all intimately aware of enraging/horrific/sad/scary real-life stories of Black men facing injustice within the American judicial system, broadly speaking, especially when the victim of whatever crime they are charged with, is white and female.
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Scottsboro Boys

Quite timely and certainly topical. I'm sure we're all intimately aware of enraging/horrific/sad/scary real-life stories of Black men facing injustice within the American judicial system, broadly speaking, especially when the victim of whatever crime they are charged with, is white and female.

This historical case mimics a more recent one; specifically, the Scottsboro Boys - 9 black teens falsely accused of raping 2 white women, in 1931 Alabama, which ultimately provoked national outrage that helped spark the Civil Rights movement - and, more recently, the Central Park Five - 5 black and Latino teenagers arrested and convicted for the brutal rape and assault of a white woman in 1989, only to be released after the real attacker confessed in 2002, in a case that triggered strong emotions in New Yorkers, and a sensational media storm across the US.

While the CP5 await the results of a civil suit against New York (who've been fighting the against it), it was announced earlier today that the Alabama Legislature has taken major steps toward clearing the names of the Scottsboro Boys, more than 80 years after the young black men were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women.

It's about time, don't you think? A report on this is embedded at the bottom of this post. In it, the AP reporter ends the piece, stating that Alabama law doesn't allow for posthumous pardons, but a new law is apparently being tailored for the Scottsboro Boys specifically, to, at the very least, right a terrible injustice... finally.

This all reminded me the controversial 2010 Broadway musical, The Scottsboro Boys, which closed early because of lackluster ticket sales, running for just over a month, which isn't very long at all for a Broadway show.

For a number of reasons (most notably concerns amongst audiences over the use of a racially-charged device - minstrelsy - to tell the racially-charged story) ticket sales just weren't impressive enough to keep the theater lights on, despite strong support from some of black Hollywood's elite, like Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg and Lee Daniels (lots of black folks protested it, but a few did champion it).

But all may not be lost for you fans of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical production, as Lee Daniels, who reportedly saw the Broadway show "several times," and obviously loved it, revealed in 2010 that he would be making a feature film based on the Broadway musical.

The Oscar-nominated Daniels was said to be developing it at the time, but no word on how exactly he was/is interested in doing that - whether as a musical drama, or just a drama feature, sans the singing and dancing, etc...

Lee Daniels certainly loves controversial material, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that he'd be interested in this. Though I won't hold my breath waiting for this to happen, because, as I said in 2010, I think it will be a tough sell for Hollywood financiers. History shows that audiences (especially black audiences) aren't all that keen on seeing historical dramas based on real-life occurrences - especially if set pre-Civil Rights; and certainly not musicals.

Daniels would likely have to go the independent/private funding route - a path he's certainly familiar with.

But the project isn't even listed on his IMDB page, and if he were going to make a film version of the musical, I'd think doing so soon after the show's Broadway run would've been ideal. So I'm guessing it's likely a dead project.

But hopefully we'll get a chance to interview him later this year, when The Butler opens, as he does the usual press junket tour. And if we do, it'll be one of the question we ask him.

Here's the AP report from earlier this morning:

This article is related to: Lee Daniels


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