Will Smith has signed on to star in and produce Netflix’s upcoming film “The Council,” the fact-based story of of Nicky Barnes, who led a New York City crime syndicate that ruled Harlem in the ’70s and ’80s. While Barnes has been a secondary character in films before, the new film will be the first to focus squarely on the man and his criminal enterprise. The screenplay was written by journalist and veteran of the biopic genre Peter Landesman. He wrote and directed 2015’s “Concussion,” which stars Smith as a doctor who fights against the NFL over his research on traumatic brain injury, the 2013 post-Kennedy-assassination tale “Parkland,” and Watergate drama “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”
Per the film’s official synopsis, “‘The Council’ is the never-before told story of a crime syndicate consisting of seven African-American men who ruled Harlem in the 1970s and early 80s. No ordinary crime syndicate — the men dreamed of a self-sufficient and self-policing African American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game. The movie centers on the Shakespearean court intrigue between The Council’s king, Nicky Barnes, dubbed ‘Mr. Untouchable’ by the New York Times, and all the different members as one unlikely rising protégé emerges.”
The studio also shares that, “Barnes, whose death was recently made known, was an American crime boss, active in New York City during the 1970s who led an international drug trafficking ring, in partnership with the Italian-American Mafia, until his arrest in 1978. Barnes was sentenced to life imprisonment, eventually becoming a federal informant.”
No director or release date has been announced yet. Landesman will also executive produce along with Jackson Pictures’ Joanne Lee and David Lee for Anonymous Nobodies. Along with Smith, James Lassiter will produce for Westbrook Inc.’s Overbrook Entertainment, as will Jackson Pictures’ Matt Jackson and Jason Essex for Anonymous Nobodies.
The film marks Smith’s return to Netflix after the success of “Bright,” a big hit for the streamer that reportedly notched 11 million streaming viewers during its first three days of release back in 2017. While the film was critically maligned, the Netflix Original was big business for the studio, which currently has a sequel in development.
Overbrook is represented by CAA and Mark Wetzstein of Sloan, Offer, Weber and Dern. Jackson Pictures is represented by CAA and Neil Sacker of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. Ryan Goodell of Morris Yorn Barnes Levine Krintzman Rubenstein Kohner & Gellman negotiated on behalf of Essex. CAA and Andrew Galker from Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein negotiated on behalf of Landesman.
While “The Council” will mark the first feature to focus entirely on Barnes, he’s a familiar character on the big screen. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him in Ridley Scott’s 2007 drama “American Gangster,” based on the life of Frank Lucas. He was played by Sean Combs in the 2005 film “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power.”
In 2007, Barnes released his co-written biography, “Mr. Untouchable.” A Mark Levin-directed documentary by the same name was also released that year.
Next up for Smith: pulling double duty in the Ang Lee sci-fi film “Gemini Man,” set for release by Paramount next month, and the animated “Spies in Disguise,” which is due out in December from Disney’s Blue Sky Studios.