HBO Films has teamed with writer Kirk Ellis, producer Doug Ellin and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV for a project about Harriet Tubman, with Oscar nominee Viola Davis set to portray the famous abolitionist.
Based on the biography Bound For The Promised Land by historian Kate Clifford Larson, the film, now in development, tells the story of American hero Tubman. Born a slave, she escaped and, via an intricate escape network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad, she led more than 300 slaves to freedom in the North and later fought with the Union during the Civil War.
Cliff Dorfman, who had optioned the book, was a writer on the HBO comedy Entourage, created and executive produced by Ellin, who has a deal with the pay cable network. All key auspices have strong ties to HBO. Ellis wrote the Emmy-winning HBO mini John Adams, while Amblin TV (then DreamWorks TV) was behind two other Emmy-winning historical HBO miniseries, Band Of Brothers and The Pacific, as well as the upcoming movie All The Way, directed by Jay Roach and starring Bryan Cranston.
Amblin TV also has a relationship with Ellis, who wrote for the company’s TNT mini Into The West, and additionally, Amblin’s feature sibling, Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios, produced box office hit The Help, which earned Davis an Oscar nomination.
Executive producing the untitled Harriet Tubman movie for HBO are Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank of Amblin TV, Ellin and Jim Lefkowitz of Halyard Park, Dorfman as well as Davis and her husband Julius Tennon through their JuVee Prods.
The story of the Underground Railroad has been in the cultural zeitgeist. WGN America has the Akiva Goldsman-produced 10-episode drama series Underground, starring Christopher Meloni and Jurnee Smollett-Bell, with Kanye West expected to serve as musical consultant, while NBC is prepping miniseries Freedom Run produced by Stevie Wonder.
Ellis and Dorman are repped by ICM Partners. Ellin and Davis, who stars on the breakout ABC freshman drama How To Get Away With Murder, are repped by CAA. The book is repped by Doe Coover.