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 March) to 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 Crouch, Bert Sugar, the late George Plimpton, Jack Newfield, Randy Roberts, Gerald 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…?