Tyler Perry has been cast as the lead in HBO’s upcoming biopic of African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, believed to have directed more than 40 features between 1919 and 1948, working outside the confines of Hollywood due to racism and discrimination.
Perry will executive produce the project, but not direct. Charles Murray (“Sons of Anarchy,” History Channel’s “Roots” reboot) is penning the script based on film historian Patrick McGilligan’s 2007 biography “Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker.”
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (NBC’s live musical franchise) are executive producing the project for Sony Pictures TV through their Storyline Entertainment banner.
“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.”
The early careers of Perry and Micheaux are eerily similar. A novelist turned director, Micheaux raised outside financing 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.
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.”
Micheaux died in 1951 at the age of 67.
According to Variety, Zadan and Meron had been wanting to work with Perry on a project for years. 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.