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HBO, Ken Burns & Tom Hanks Team Up For Scripted 4 To 6-Part Mini-Series On Jack Johnson

HBO, Ken Burns & Tom Hanks Team Up For Scripted 4 To 6-Part Mini-Series On Jack Johnson

Ken Burns already tackled Jack Johnson in a feature documentary – Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, the 3 1/2-hour 2005 film; Burns will return to the life of Johnson, but this time via a scripted 4 to 6-part mini-series for HBO, says Deadline.

HBO has hired Beau Willimon (Ides of Marchto pen the script, which will see Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman produce (via their Playtone Partners production company) along with Ken Burns, who will also direct the series, which will be based on Geoffrey C. Ward’s book Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson – the same book that Burns based his 2005 PBS feature documentary on. 

While the character James Earl Jones played in the 1970 film, The Great White Hope, was patterned after Jack Johnson, this upcoming HBO mini-series by Burns will be the first to really directly tackle the man, his provocative life and career, on screen. I especially love the idea of a 4 to 6-part mini-series on HBO, instead of a single feature film in theaters.

Like Burns’ 2005 doc, the HBO series will center on Jack Johnson as the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World, whose dominance over his white opponents spurred furious debates and race riots in the early 20th century. The provocative PBS documentary showed the gritty details of Johnson’s life through archival footage, still photographs, and the commentary of boxing experts such as Stanley CrouchBert Sugar, the late George PlimptonJack Newfield, Randy RobertsGerald Early and James Earl Jones.

Johnson in many ways was an embodiment of the African American struggle to be truly free in this country – economically, socially and politically. He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual.

Before the scripted HBO mini-series premieres, check out the doc, which, last I checked, is streaming on Netflix.

No ETA is given for when we can expect the mini.

Of course, the big question is who will be cast to play Jack Johnson…?

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Excellent subject matter, and in superb hands with Beau at the helm. It sure is about time that African American writers got the opportunity to handle our own material, but Beau has shown on House of Cards that he can run a tight ship. There is plenty of room for Black influence with 4 to 6 episodes being slated. Let's watch this space when we see how the team fills out. Jack was a legend and his story deserves to reach young Americans today, who ever is behind the wheel. As long as they get it right!


I caught the doc a few years ago. I think either Keith David or Samuel L. Jackson narrated. It seemed pretty thorough and wondering what the miniseries will bring new to the table.


I'm curious will HBO cover his "Cotton Club Days" with reputed mobster Owney Madden?


However, its not TV…its HBO


This may be great. Jack was quite a controversial man. Random, but I recently read a novel that taught me Jack actually had a patent for a wrench he designed. Hope the miniseries teaches a lot more about him.


I guess I'm the only guy who realizes this is going to be AMAZING if all goes well. Wish I could work on the project myself. I am a huge fan of the Big Smoke!


If the quality is up there with Band of Brothers this is a good thing.


Sad. His story deserves a theatrical release, not some TV series. It's that great of a story. I am disappointed…

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