With a rising star in place to play the legendary soul singer, the James Brown biopic is finally on the road to getting made.
Variety's Justin Kroll reported last night that Chadwick Boseman—who played Jackie Robinson in this year's 42—has been chosen to star as Brown, and Universal and Imagine Entertainment have greenlit the project.
Producer Brian Grazer has wanted to make the film for some time. In January, David Browne of Rolling Stone reported that Grazer has been working on the project since the late 90s, and before Brown died in 2006 the singer was was involved in the film's development. Following Brown's death the project "floundered," according to Browne, but got a new lease on life late last year after Mick Jagger signed on as a co-producer with Grazer and Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. reported that The Help director Tate Taylor was in negotiations to helm the film.
News of Taylor's involvement also meant that veteran filmmaker Spike Lee, who had been attached to the project, was out. "Glazer’s decision to fire Lee and hire Tate proves that Hollywood continues to be a racially divided industry," Amir Shaw of Rolling Out wrote in October of last year. "Black filmmakers will only get an opportunity to tell their stories when wealthy blacks make a point to invest in the business by opening more production studios." Criticisms of Taylor's appointment were especially pointed, given his work on The Help, a film which Aisha Harris at Slate wrote was "rightly controversial for its whitewashed depiction of the Civil Rights Movement." Grazer, for his part, told Rolling Stone's Browne that Lee was the choice when Grazer held the rights for the film, which he lost when Brown died, though he now has permission to make the movie. "He was the choice when I had the rights," Grazer said of Lee. "When the rights left me, I didn't have any control, and I couldn't make director choices. So when it came later with new people and new rights holders, we weren't doing it with Spike Lee anymore."
With Taylor and Boseman now signed on, the film is gaining considerable steam. Jeff Sneider at The Wrap reports that Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and Nelsan Ellis, all of whom had roles in Taylor's The Help, are being considered for roles in the film, which is set to be shot in Mississippi starting in the fall. A screenplay has been written by brothers Jez and John Henry Butterworth, who wrote the 2010 Valerie Plame drama Fair Game.