This news is actually about a month old, but we just missed it when it initially broke.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw will star alongside Matthew McConaughey in the feature film “Free State of Jones,” which is based on a true story of the relationship between Newton Knight (McConaughey) and a slave, Rachel (Mbatha-Raw), exploring the impact Rachel had on Knight’s life and the Civil War-set rebellion he led against the Confederacy.
There’s a book by author Victoria E. Bynum titled “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” which gives more detail on the story as follows: “Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River, where, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones. The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight’s interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.”
“Hunger Games” and “Seabiscuit” helmer Gary Ross wrote the script, and is set to direct. He’s also producing alongside Scott Stuber and Jon Kilik.
The independently produced, $65 million project is set to shoot in New Orleans and Lafayette, LA, from late February through late May 2015.
The 1948 film “Tap Roots,” starring Van Heflin and Susan Hayward, was partly inspired by Knight’s story.
An unexpected choice for Mbatha-Raw, who, last year, starred in Amma Asante’s period drama “Belle,” about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices, as she develops a relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave emancipation.
She also starred in Gina Prince Bythewood’s drama “Beyond the Lights.”