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Ken Burns Is Turning His PBS Doc 'Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson' Into An HBO Miniseries

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 25, 2013 at 1:54PM

You can't really talk about American documentary filmmakers without mentioning Ken Burns. Practically an institution at PBS, Ken Burns has created sprawling, research heavy, detailed documentaries about monumental moments in the country's history, including "The Civil War," "Jazz" and "Prohibition" (he's not one for fancy titles). He's also turned his eye from time to time to sports, with "Baseball" and "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson." And some stories it seems are worth telling again with a bit of cinematic flair, as the latter is headed for the miniseries treatment.
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Unforgiveable Blackness Ken Burns

You can't really talk about American documentary filmmakers without mentioning Ken Burns. Practically an institution at PBS, Ken Burns has created sprawling, research heavy, detailed documentaries about monumental moments in the country's history, including "The Civil War," "Jazz" and "Prohibition" (he's not one for fancy titles). He's also turned his eye from time to time to sports, with "Baseball" and "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson." And some stories it seems are worth telling again with a bit of cinematic flair, as the latter is headed for the miniseries treatment.

HBO and Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's Playtone shingle are teaming with Burns for a four-to-six part mini-series, which will be penned by Beau Willimon ("Ides Of March," "House Of Cards"). Hard to argue with that talent. It's difficult to recount the entire saga of Johnson's life in a few lines -- we have Wikipedia for all that -- but essentially he was a world famous boxer, at a time when it wasn't easy to be black and successful in America. While he thrived professionally, and made no secret or hid the trappings that came with his rise to the top -- he was also targeted for it, with overzealous prosecutors usually on his tail. He spent seven years in exile, had a couple stints in prison, and there is wrenching final note in his life, as he died in a car crash, driving away furiously from a diner that refused to serve him.

No word yet on when this will roll into production, and the title part will be a meaty one certainly. But until then, if you haven't caught up with the documentary, you can watch it below. [Deadline]

This article is related to: Television, TV News, Ken Burns, HBO , Tom Hanks


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