Nina

Nina PosterRelease Date:  2016
Studio(s):  Ealing Studios, Londinium Films, RLJ Entertainment
Director: Cynthia Mort
Genre: Drama/Biography
Cast:  Zoe Saldana (Nina Simone),  David Oyelowo (Clifton Henderson), Mike Epps (Richard Pryor), Alexa Davalos (Olivia), Ella Thomas (Lorraine Hansberry), Ella Joyce (Clifton’s Mom)

Nina Simone movie still

Story:  She was one of the century’s most extraordinary talents, a 15-time Grammy nominee and Grammy Hall of Fame Recipient; her mesmerizing songs and passionate politics combined to make her the unforgettable Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana). But fame and fortune came with a price, and her later years were riddled with depression, alcohol abuse and isolation. Rediscovering the meaning of her life and work took courage, strength and one true friend: Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), the man who started out as her assistant and eventually became her loyal manager. With Clifton’s encouragement, the “high priestess of soul” began a courageous journey back to her music … and, eventually, herself.  Source:  Shadow and Act.

Simone, who died in 2003, was a singer, songwriter and civil rights activist who performed in a wide range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, gospel and pop. She was a 15-time Grammy nominee and received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000.  The story follows Simone’s struggle to balance music, family and what she believes in, which leaves her living alone in France feeling exiled from her own country until she meets Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), who helps her rediscover meaning in her life and music, and to once again embrace America.  Source/Photo Source:  Variety.

Trailer:

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Update 9/11/15: Variety reported on 9/10/15 that RLJ Entertainment  has acquired all North American rights to Nina, starring Zoe Saldana as American singer-songwriter Nina Simone.  RLJ announced the deal Thursday at the start of the Toronto Film Festival, and plans a December release.

Update 6/11/15:  On 5/26/15 Shadow and Act stated that it looks like Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana is going to see the light of day, as Ben Latham-Jones of the UK’s Ealing Studios (the company behind the film) revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Nina will be released by eOne and Universal worldwide later this year.  Shadow and Act goes on to report that last year, the project was taken to the Cannes Film Market (Marche du Film), where it was screened for potential international distributors, and where eOne and Universal apparently picked up rights.  Source:  Shadow and Act.

Update 9/1/14:  The long-planned market screening of the biopic about legendary jazz singer Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana went ahead on May 15th despite a lawsuit filed by director Cynthia Mort claiming its British production company hijacked the film.

Mort, a well-known TV writer, making her feature directorial debut, alleges producer Ealing Studios Enterprises, breached the terms of the director deal by cutting her out of the final editing process. According to the Complaint filed May 14th in Los Angeles, Mort had rights over the developing picture and “got approval over the final shooting script, the cast and crew, the line producer, the designer and all department heads as well as consulting rights on advertising, distribution, shooting schedule and budget.” However, as the suit further states, “throughout the course of the film’s production and post-production, defendants consistently acted to frustrate Mort’s involvement in the film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement. These breaches by the Defendants include, but are not limited to: taking complete control of editing the Film in June 2013 and failing to consult with Mort about subsequent cuts and changes; abandoning Mort’s previous cuts of the Film; failing to disclose the Film’s financials, finishing budget, and financing deals; and failing to keep Mort informed of other crucial creative and budgetary developments and decisions throughout production and post-production of the Film.”

Mort says the film doesn’t reflect her vision of Simone as a woman, musician and civil rights activist. She is seeking monetary damages, as well as “a declaration that the defendants can’t make decisions without her meaningful approval and consultation.”

The film first came under fire when it was announced that Saldana would be playing the title role (Shadow and Act reported that Mary J. Blige was initially attached to star in the film, but was eventually replaced by Saldana who brought more international box office gravitas to the production). Many Simone fans voiced their disappointment in the choice, citing racial differences, departure in appearance between Simone and Saldana and the fact that Saldana’s voice would not be up to par. Adding to the casting controversy, is the release of a recent photo of Saldana as Simone, which shows the actress with her skin darkened, a prosthetic nose and even possibly what looks like fake teeth to push her lips out and make them bigger. The “makeover” is being compared by some to the offensive tradition of blackface in which white performers donned theatrical makeup to portray blacks.

Saldana as Simone

Another point of contention is the story. According to Shadow and Act, the film’s official synopsis reads:

A rare and poignant love story about a tormented genius who eventually finds love and peace. The story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson.

But as reported in The Daily Mail, Simone’s daughter, Lisa stated:

“They did not ask me or the Nina Simone estate to participate in the film at all. It is based on a lie because it is based on the life of my mother’s assistant, Clifton Henderson. Clifton was gay so he could not have had an affair with my mother, which is what the film implies.

Zoe Saldana portraying her is a bad joke because there are more gifted actresses who are more in keeping with my mother’s appearance. I know how my mother would feel about Zoe, so they are making a mockery of her experiences to construct their own truth.”

In spite of all the controversy and the filing of the lawsuit, it was business as usual as far as the production company was concerned and the film was screened to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival. Buyers polled by The Hollywood Reporter after the screening said they liked the film they saw. Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, Essence.com, Shadow and Act, The Grapevine, SheKnows, Daily Mail.

Details:  According to Black Actors, photos of The Avatar actress on set, show her sporting dark make-up and an afro wig. Saldana received backlash after she was cast to play the titular role for “not being dark enough.” (Source(s): Black Actors; Movie Insider).

Robeson

Paul RobesonStatus:  Development Status Unknown as of April 24, 2017
Release Date: TBA
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  Not Available
Studio:  Four Stars International/Equinox Films
Director:  Vondie Curtis-Hall
Cast:  David Harewood (Paul Robeson), Louis Gossett, Jr. (W.E.B. Dubois), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Eslanda Goode Robeson).

Details:  Variety reports that Vondie Curtis-Hall will direct the upcoming Paul Robeson biopic with shooting set for early 2014.

“Robeson” has been in development since early 2013 with South African director Darrell Roodt attached to helm and David Harewood on board to play the lead. Roodt is no longer attached and producers have opted to read other actors for the role.

Robeson, born in 1898, was a singer, actor and orator from the 1920s through the 1950s best known for his  acting in “Othello” and his singing of “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson’s political activism brought him to the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy, leading to the revocation of his passport for eight years despite his contributions as an entertainer to the Allied forces during WWII. (Source: Variety).

Sexual Healing

Jesse L. Martin as Marvin GayeStatus:  Development Status Unknown as of June 14, 2013
Release Date: TBA
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  Not Available
Studio:  Arclight Films
Director: Julien Temple
Cast:  Jesse L. Martin (Marvin Gaye),  Brendan Gleeson (Freddy Cousaert),  S. Epatha Merkerson (Alberta Gay), Clarke Peters (Harvey Fuqua), Dwight Henry (Marvin Gaye, Sr.)

Story: The movie chronicles late Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s self-imposed exile in Europe after years of battling drugs, domestic issues and label headaches. There, he was rescued by a promoter who helped Gaye record his biggest-selling album, “Midnight Love,” which yielded the monster comeback hit, “Sexual Healing.”  Gaye’s life was cut short the day before his 45th birthday in 1984, when his father killed him.

Details: The pic will center on the final years of Gaye’s life in London from 1981, when he was suffering from an addiction to alcohol and an allergy to the taxman, and how he was rescued by music promoter Freddy Cousaert and spirited away to his flat in Ostend, Belgium, to recover.

Various producers have spent years trying to make a movie about Gaye. Originally, the project was intended to cover a larger portion of his life but was refocused on his final years because of rights issues with his Motown-produced records.

As reported by Rolling Stone Magazine in March 2013, Lenny Kravitz dropped out of the long-anticipated biopic to be replaced by Law & Order alumnus Jesse L. Martin. Deadline Hollywood reports. Martin, was actually attached to star in a previous version of the film which was being produced by James Gandolfini back in 2008. No word was given for why Kravitz bowed out, though news that the rocker would be portraying Gaye reportedly led to objections from the singer’s son, Marvin Gaye III, who threatened legal action if Kravitz did not drop out. (Source(s): Black Actors; Movie Insider; Photo Credit:  ThisisRnB.com).

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta ComptonRelease Date:  8/14/15
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  Not Available
Studio(s):  Circle of Confusion, Cube Vision, Universal Pictures.
Director:  
F. Gary Gray
Cast:
  Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube), Keith Stanfield (Snoop Dogg), Alexandra Shipp (Kim), Aldis Hodge (MC Ren), R. Marcos Taylor (Suge Knight).

Synopsis:  In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country.  When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.

Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, Straight Outta Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job). The drama is produced by original N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who are joined by fellow producers Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright. Will Packer serves as executive producer of the film alongside Gray.  Photo Source:  Official Facebook page.  Source(s):  Official Facebook page, Movie Insider.

Trailer:

Sweet Thunder

Sugar Ray RobinsonStatus:  Development Unknown (Script as of 1/17/17)
Release Date:  TBA
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  Not Available
Studio:  Specialty Films
Director:  Not Available
Cast: David Oyelowo, Danny Strong

Details:  Deadline reports that David Oyelowo is ready to play iconic boxer Sugar Ray Robinson in a biopic based on the Wil Haygood biography Sweet Thunder: The Life And Times Of Sugar Ray Robinson.  Moneyball producer Rachael Horovitz and Game Change scribe Danny Strong will produce, and Oyelowo will be executive producer.

According to Black Actors, the film will focus on Robinson’s early career and possibly the organized crime circles that controlled the boxing industry in the 1940s and 1950s. (Source(s): Deadline; Black Actors).

Take My Wife

Status:  Development Unknown (Script as of 3/14/17)
Release Date: TBA
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not Available
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Director: TBA
Cast: Tyler Perry
Dwayne Johnson
Story:  A recently divorced man attempts to find his ex-wife a new man in order to avoid paying alimony, but in the process, he falls in love again and then must compete for his ex-wife’s affection. (Source: Movie Insider)

Toussaint

Status:  Development Status – Script as of 9/17/17
Release Date:  TBA
Genre:  Biography
Rating:  Not Available
Studio:  Louverture Films
Director:  Danny Glover
Cast: TBA
Story:  Haitian revolution hero Toussaint L’Ouverture led one of the few successful slave uprisings in history. The slaves defeated French, Spanish and British armies and established the first independent Black republic, naming L’Ouverture president for life. He was captured and imprisoned by the French and died a year later.

Details:  As reported in The Guardian, on July 27, 2012, for more than 30 years, Glover has been trying to make a biopic about the leader of the Haitian revolution. True, the story of L’Ouverture has been told before, notably in a play by CLR James that was staged in London’s West End in 1936 starring Paul Robeson, and more recently in a French TV series starring Haitian actor, Jimmy Jean-Louis.  But Glover believes his treatment will be the first to “have the epic scale these events require.”

But when will we see this directorial debut?  In 2006, Glover assembled a cast including Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mos Def, and planned to shoot his film in South Africa and Venezuela, thanks to $18m from one of Glover’s heroes, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Six years on, filming has not started. “We’ll get the film done,” says Glover. “We came so close so many times, you could almost taste it, man. We came that close and we’re going to do it.” (Source: Shadow and Act).