EXCLUSIVE: As Jeff Nichols premieres the civil rights drama Loving here at Toronto this weekend, he’s preparing to take a less obvious look at the subject of racism. Nichols is making a deal at 20th Century Fox to write and direct a new version of Alien Nation, the 1988 science fiction thriller that took the mismatched buddy cop concept to the extreme. The original starred James Caan as a racist cop who is forced to team with a member of an alien race which came to Earth when a ship carrying 300,000 enslaved aliens crashed, with the newcomers assimilating in Los Angeles. That extraterrestrial partner was played by Mandy Patinkin in the Graham Baker-directed original, which spawned a 1989 TV series. Down to its title, the film was a clever metaphor to explore racism, and it seems timeless in relation to current racial politics.

'Midnight Special' special film screening, New York, America - 28 Mar 2016
REX/Shutterstock

Nichols will write the new version of the film and direct it for Fox. His Loving producers Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Sara Greene are joining him as producers on the movie. Loving, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as the couple Mildred and Richard Loving, who fell in love, married and were thrown in jail because interracial marriage was against the law in Virginia. Their case became a landmark civil rights victory when the Supreme Court invalidated state laws preventing interracial marriage. The film was acquired by Focus Features in a splash Berlin Film Festival deal, and has its gala premiere Sunday night at Roy Thompson Hall before Focus releases it in Oscar season.

alien-nation-tv
20th Century Fox

It becomes another thoughtful film for Nichols, who launched in features with Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, and most recently the sci-fi thriller Midnight Special. Perhaps it is too early to speculate about the potential involvement of Michael Shannon in Alien Nation, but perhaps not considering he and Nichols have become regular collaborators and Shannon would be a strong fit for either the human or the alien cop. I have no idea if it has even been pondered at this nascent stage, but it seems a natural.

CAA reps Nichols.