EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-winning Ray helmer Taylor Hackford has been set to direct Signal Hill, the working title of the drama that will star Anthony Mackie as attorney Johnnie Cochran. Long before he defended O.J. Simpson in the trial of the century, Cochran established himself as a legal superhero because of his unrelenting pursuit of justice in the Signal Hill police brutality case in 1981.

The script is by David McMillan. Mackie and Jason Spire will produce with Robbie Brenner, Kevin McKeon  and Jeff Kwatinetz. Hackford will also be producer. McMillan is exec producer and the hope is to go into production in January. UTA and CAA are co-repping domestic rights, and the film will be in play here at the Toronto Film Festival market.

RonSettlesLBSUFootball

While Cochran would go on to represent celebrities from Simpson to Michael Jackson and Jim Brown, his rise to fame as an advocate for blacks suffering in police brutality cases was galvanized by his work in the landmark Signal Hill case. He represented a football player, Cal State Long Beach star Ron Settles, who had been picked up for speeding in Signal Hill, in Los Angeles County. Shortly after his arrest, he was found hanged in his cell. The police called it a suicide, but an autopsy — performed after Cochran persuaded Settles’ family to exhume the body — showed that he had been choked to death. The family was awarded $760,000 in a civil suit, the police chief resigned, and reforms were mandated. Cochran died in 2005.

Hackford most recently directed the Robert De Niro-starrer The Comedian. He’s repped by CAA.