In what reads like a hilariously grand idea, I’ve learned that veteran actress Jenifer Lewis, will star in and executive produce Ventura Boulevard, which Debbie Allen (also an industry veteran) is attached to direct, from a script penned by Mark Alton Brown and Dee LaDuke, the same writing team behind Lewis’ cult classic, Jackie’s Back! – the 1999 comedy directed by Robert Townsend, which chronicles the life and career of an R&B diva, who, after several years of toiling away in obscurity, decides to organize a comeback.
Ventura Boulevard is described as a darkly comedic homage to the 1950 Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard, starring Lewis as a self-deluded queen of 1970’s blaxpoitation movies who uses her guile, money and sex to manipulate a young white scriptwriter into creating her comeback part.
Wilder’s film, as you might recall, followed Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star who draws an unsuccessful screenwriter, played by William Holden, into her fantasy world where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen.
Lewis’ Ventura Boulevard will be scored by Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner Marc Shaiman, who is also a five-time Oscar-nominee for his work on films like Sleepless in Seattle, The American President, and others.
“I am taking things into my own hands by producing ‘Ventura Boulevard’,” said Jenifer Lewis, who promises a film that touches on hot social issues, like aging, race and deception. “The Hollywood establishment isn’t going to finance a movie about a middle aged African-American diva who deceives and beds a young white man.”
With more than 300 movie and TV credits, including most recently, Baggage Claim in fall 2013, and with Think Like A Man Too as well as The Wedding Ringer on her 2014 slate, Lewis, determined to affect the ongoing conversation on the lack of roles for women actors who don’t fit certain profiles, adds “I love being everyone’s favorite Hollywood mama, but I am ready to prove if you want something more, you have to make it happen yourself.”
Indeed! All reminiscent of the same brand of moxie that Lewis used to shake the entire Internet out of its doldrums last fall, when video of her powerful response to a question asked by an aspiring actor, during the Q&A that followed the Urbanworld Film Festival screening of Baggage Claim, was circulated online on blogs like this one.
Ventura Boulevard reunites Lewis and Debbie Allen, who last worked together over 20 years ago on A Different World.
Allen is currently lending her directing talents to TV series like Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
Ventura Boulevard also reunites Lewis and composer Marc Shaiman, who worked together in films such as Beaches and Sister Act. Additionally, Shaiman scored and wrote songs for Jackie’s Back! And for Hairspray, Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman wrote the show-stopper I Know Where I’ve Been for Lewis, who sang the ballad in the show’s Broadway production.
Casting for co-stars is underway, with shooting planned for summer 2014, for a 2015 release.
Ventura Boulevard is produced by Lewis, Nathan Hale Williams (of iN-Hale Entertainment) and Carol Ann Shine.