By Cynthia Littleton | Variety
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are shepherding the project for Sony Pictures TV through their Storyline Entertainment banner. Perry is set to executive produce with Zadan and Meron but does not plan to direct.
Charles Murray, an alum of “Sons of Anarchy” and History’s redo of “Roots,” is penning the script. It’s based on the 2007 biography “Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker” by film historian Patrick McGilligan.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Tyler Perry to bring Oscar Micheaux’s inspiring and trailblazing life story to HBO,” said Zadan. Added Meron: “There are so many parallels between the groundbreaking work that Micheaux pioneered and Perry’s achievements as an artist that it feels like a natural fit.”
A novelist turned director, Micheaux raised the money to produce the film adaptation of his 1917 book “The Homesteader” after rejecting an option offer from another company when they refused to let him direct.
Micheaux is believed to have helmed more than 40 features between 1919 and 1948, working outside the confines of Hollywood in the face of discrimination against an African-American entrepreneur.
Early on, Micheaux tackled the problem of distribution by personally driving prints of his films to black communities around the country, where they played to segregated audiences. His films largely featured all-black casts and were an effort to counter racial stereotypes with humanistic portrayals of black life. His notable works included 1920’s “Within Our Gates,” a response to D.W. Griffith’s epic “Birth of a Nation”; 1931’s “The Exile,” his first sound picture; 1938’s “Swing!” and 1940’s “The Notorious Elinor Lee.” Many of Micheaux’s films have been lost to history given the lack of preservation and the decomposition of film stock of the era.
Micheaux died in 1951 at the age of 67. The Directors Guild of America recognized his contributions to film with a posthumous award for directorial achievement in 1986.
Perry’s experience as an industry outsider who made it on his own terms in film and TV echoes Micheaux’s experience more than a half-century before. Perry has had a string of box office hits since he took on the big screen in 2002 with the independently produced “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” He’s produced a number of hit TV comedies (“Meet the Browns,” “House of Payne”) out of his home base in Atlanta. At present he’s a partner with Oprah Winfrey in the OWN cabler, where his primetime soap “The Haves and Have Nots” ranks as the channel’s most-watched program.
Zadan and Meron had long been looking to work with Perry on a project. When McGilligan’s Micheaux book came on their radar, the producers realized it was a perfect fit for Perry, and the trio brought it to HBO. The movie will cover most of Micheaux’s life.
Zadan and Meron are no stranger to biopics. The prolific producers delivered highly rated telepics on the Beach Boys and Judy Garland to ABC in 2000 and 2001, respectively. They stirred controversy in 2003 with the unflinching miniseries “The Reagans,” which moved from CBS to Showtime after an outcry from conservatives. The pair also tackled the Three Stooges for ABC in 2000, the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis story for CBS in 2002 and Lucille Ball’s off-camera life for CBS in 2003.
Zadan, Meron and Perry are exec producers on the untitled Micheaux project. Mark Nicholson is co-exec producer.
Perry is repped by WME and Ziffren Brittenham. Zadan and Meron just moved to ICM Partners.