EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has acquired the Stephan Talty book The Black Hand for Leonardo DiCaprio to star in. The movie will be produced through The Gotham Group and DiCaprio’s Appian Way production banner. They are in the process of hiring a writer to adapt the book.

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Talty’s book follows Joe Petrosino, a courageous NYPD cop who unflinchingly went after a ruthless gang that came out of Italy and into America (whose calling card was a black hand) which kidnapped people and then extorted money from their families. They were loathed by law-abiding Italian families who were frightened but nevertheless helped Petrosino behind the scenes when they could as the viciousness of the gang of thugs knew no boundaries.

Petrosino, who was fluent in Italian having immigrated himself, was hawkish in his pursuit of them — and even worked with Italian law enforcement — but unfortunately, he would eventually die at their hands. He came as a child to this country, shining shoes outside a police precinct before becoming enthralled and inspired by those he literally looked up to.

History
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But before he death, he had arrested and deported dozens, as many of these criminals as he could, for the sake of his own heritage. According to historical archives, the lawman didn’t want the Italians coming into this country to be known as mere criminals.

This scum eventually assassinated him, cutting him down in cold blood and leaving his widow, Adelina, and young child fatherless. He was murdered in 1909 in Palermo on a fact-finding mission; he thought he was meeting a confidential informant, but instead walked into his own death.

The Black Hand existed at the turn of the 20th century here in the U.S. — in the late 1890s and early 1900s — and were considered the precursor of the American mafia.

There were other law enforcement officials assassinated by The Black Hand, but Petrosino was, by far, the most famous — probably because of his doggedness. There is also an exhibit about him in the NYPD Museum.

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Jeremy Bell of The Gotham Group will produce. Jennifer Davisson will also produce with Gotham as will Nathaniel Posey on behalf of Appian. Ashley Brucks and Gabby Canton are the executives at Paramount who will oversee.

Talty is the New York Times bestselling author of six books focused on history and individual achievement. As a ghostwriter, Talty’s work includes A Captain’s Duty, which was the basis for the Oscar-nominated film Captain Phillips.

His forthcoming Under The Same Sky traces a North Korean boy’s harrowing experiences during the Great Famine and his escape to America. Other works include the first account of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet and a sweeping history of Napoleon at war. His two recent ebooks, The Secret Agent and Operation Cowboy, were both No. 1 Amazon bestsellers;The Secret Agent was also named “best Kindle Single of the Year” by thinreads. 

Talty was repped in the deal by Lucy Stille at APA and Scott Waxman at Waxman Leavell. DiCaprio and Appian Way are repped by LBI Entertainment.