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Viola Davis To Tackle Barbara Jordan Biopic With Paris Barclay Directing

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 8, 2012 9:58 PM
16 Comments
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I believe this is the 3rd announced project that she's developing via her recently-formed (with her husband) JuVee production company...

This time Viola Davis will tackle the life story of Barbara Jordan to be based on the 2000 biography Barbara Jordan: American Hero, written by Mary Beth Rogers.

Paris Barclay will direct from a script adapted by Emmy-nominated writer Paris Qualles (primarily written for TV).

A little about Barbara Jordan... she was the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, and the first to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention.

But, given how private a life she led, Jordan was considered something of a mystery, even to her close friends - friends who didn't know about the illness that would eventually kill her at just 59 years old.

From Publisher's weekly about the Mary Beth Rogers' biography of Jordan:

In Barbara Jordan, Mary Beth Rogers deftly explores the forces that shaped the moral character and quiet dignity of this extraordinary woman. She reveals the seeds of Jordan's trademark stoicism while recapturing the essence of a black woman entering politics just as the civil rights movement exploded across the nation. Celebrating Jordan's elegance, passion, and patriotism, this illuminating portrayal gives new depth to our understanding of one of the most influential women of our time-a woman whose powerful convictions and flair for oratorical drama changed the political landscape of America's twentieth century.

And while she never publicly discussed her sexual orientation (not that she had to), Jordan's obituary mentioned her long-term (30-year) relationship with Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist.

Then project has apparently been in the works for "a few years" says Variety, as Davis and Barclay are said to have been looking for a project to work on together since Davis starred in Barclay's CBS medical drama City of Angels in 2000. And it looks like they've finally found it.

"We're hoping this becomes a movie that shows the world everything that Viola can do. People haven't seen everything that she's capable of, and this role is so powerful," said Barclay.

As Variety also states, initial funding for development of the project has been provided by Chicago real estate developer David "Buzz" Ruttenberg. Qualles is getting to work on the script, and, once it's completed, the producers will shop it around for distribution.

As Barclay said, this should be quite a role for Viola to flex the range of her abilities; ain't no Aibeleen here.

Just watch the real Barbara Jordan in the below clip - giving the 1976 DNC Keynote Address:

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16 Comments

  • CareyCarey | March 11, 2012 1:13 PMReply

    I stayed away from this post because... well, I knew, I assumed my opinion would be quite different from the prevailing opinions, and I was correct. I mean, it's a fact that Barbara Jordon is a significant figure in American history, that cannot be denied. However, from an aristic standpoint, I see this as being as boring as watching oatmeal dry on the sides of my favorite cereal bowl. Seriously, I just watch J Edgar and even though his story was filled with significant historical facts (much more than Barbara Jordan's) the film I saw was nothing more than a boring history lesson. Come on now, what are they going to give us in this project to make this a must see movie watching experience? Barbara was not the most dynamic speaker, nor was her life filled with juicy morsels of controversy and intrigue. Listen, I've said this before... I’ve come to believe that a journey shared with another, is more deeply moving an experience than a journey taken alone. Consequently, although I, like everyone who has been caught in the pounce of life’s struggles; that which makes us question our existence, have managed to maintain my love of watching movies with another person, as a form of escape. Not only do I escape, movie watching affords me the opportunity to visit EMOTIONS, SIGHTS and SOUNDS (much like reading books) that I may not have otherwise experienced. So, in short, I just cannot see this (in a movie format) giving me a lasting experience, or any new emotional ride. There is simply not much, not enough to work with.

  • CareyCarey | March 13, 2012 10:01 PM

    Okay Ska-Triumph, as usual, your observations are very poignant. Yes, I agree, it always or usually comes down to the script. Then the director (imo) and then the actors. A simple story can be told in several ways, regardless of the subject matter. I am reminded of the short story of Benjamen Button. Some versions are less than 60 pages.

  • ska-triumph | March 12, 2012 5:03 PM

    As I wrote on Sergio's post today, it will be up to a strong, tight script, and likely Ms. Jordan's estate, to FOCUS on that transformative event/story that created the Barbara Jordan of history. ERIN BROKERVICH had that and did that. J EDGAR and, if I may add, IRON LADY decided to meander and wander back and forth in time, weakening the key moments and by extension, the effect of the leads' performances. What you see/say as not much to work with is exactly its strength: there are narrative boundares that should FOCUS the emotional impact from and for Viola's Barbara. From that point, I trust Ms. Davis, Mr. Barclay and the production team to take what would be a period, political, sexual identity piece and craft a true experience.

  • noel | March 11, 2012 8:14 AMReply

    Evidently, the kinds of projects Viola's production company is embarking on is clearly the kind she's been sourcing for as opposed the crack head roles black filmmakers offer her. It all makes sense now

  • B | March 9, 2012 5:35 PMReply

    Sounds interesting. Looking forward to seeing this!

  • urbanauteur | March 9, 2012 4:46 PMReply

    Great,Great Woman!.. this is going to be exciting;-)

  • Donella | March 9, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    Worthy subject portrayed by a worthy actress.

  • Donella | March 12, 2012 4:27 PM

    I like that both Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan may be brought to life for people unaware of their political relevance.

  • noel | March 11, 2012 8:08 AM

    @ Ava each time I see your post, the name Ava Duvernay comes to my mind :)

  • Ava | March 9, 2012 5:17 PM

    ITA Donella. Hopefully the script and direction will be worthy as well.

  • Geneva Girl | March 9, 2012 8:37 AMReply

    Good for Viola. I was hoping that her next roll would allow the world to see her glamorous self, not just on the red carton. I agree with the reader below that this would be better as a mini series. It would indeed be must-see TV.

  • LeonRaymond | March 8, 2012 11:34 PMReply

    I hope they focus more on her stance against supreme incredible racism and the fact that she was one who stood tall when it came time to impeach Richard Nixon. She stood tall when their were a lot of bigot in the house and Senate who entered into it after directly coming from the Klu Klux Klan. This one will be a hard sell cause nobody remembers her endeavors. I am a Texan who now lives in NY so I know, but they should push excerpts or something to the public otherwise it will be just an after school special

  • sheldon | March 11, 2012 10:30 AM

    You are right. So many years have gone by that many people don't remember her. People like her and Mickey Leland should never be forgotten.

  • Nicole | March 8, 2012 10:33 PMReply

    I'm looking forward to seeing Viola in this.

    @Gigi Young: They didn't shop The Iron Lady as a tv mini-series. I think this is more of a starring vehicle for Viola to really show her range. Not necessarily a big box-office draw.

  • geo | March 8, 2012 11:03 PM

    I agree Nicole, it will show her range big time and as for it being a box office draw, if they budget it right everything should work out great!

  • Gigi Young | March 8, 2012 10:21 PMReply

    Hopefully they won't be afraid to shop this as a TV mini-series. That is such an untapped market for black media (the Brits don't seem to have trouble sleeping over TV mini-series's), and audiences are more likely to watch this biopic on TV than going to the movie theatres.

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