EXCLUSIVE: As the organization’s centennial year draws to a close, the story of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger will be heading to the big screen as Black Bicycle Entertainment and producer Justine Ciarrocchi have partnered to acquire rights to author Ellen Feldman’s novel Terrible Virtue. Black Bicycle’s Erika Olde will develop and produce the film adaptation alongside Ciarrocchi.
Ciarrocchi is the producing partner of Jennifer Lawrence and is developing Zelda, which tells the story of Zelda Fitzgerald. Ron Howard is attached to direct the film with Lawrence in the title role. The Oscar-winning actress is not attached to the Sanger project.
Published by HarperCollins in March, Terrible Virtue focuses on Sanger as the daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and mother worn down by 13 children, who vowed her life would be different. Following Sanger’s training as a nurse, her work alongside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists and other progressives and eventually her devotion to the cause of legalizing contraception, the film examines the risks she took and the impact she had that lasts to the present day.
One of the most groundbreaking and controversial figures in American history, Sanger emerged from the labor movement as the pre-eminent American voice for women’s sexual health and legalization of contraception. Credited with coining the term “birth control,” she established the first American birth control clinic in 1916, devoting her life to making contraception legal and along the way facing arrest and exile.
Sanger remains an icon and hero to progressives and feminists but a greatly reviled figure to the anti-abortion movement, which frequently has taken comments by Sanger about overpopulation out of context to imply racist intent. Work on bringing her story to the big screen begins just as abortion and birth control opponents look to make significant gains with the election of Donald Trump.
“Margaret’s story as an advocate who led the battle for birth control and eventually founding Planned Parenthood is so relevant given our recent election and today’s climate as we are once again forced to deal with basic human rights,” said Olde. “I share a mutual passion of the subject with Justine and look forward to bringing this topic and heroic individual to the forefront.”
Said Ciarrocchi: “The scope of Sanger’s complexity, both as a revolutionary and human being, is extraordinary. I blew through Feldman’s novel with such urgency, struck by the nuance, transparency and daring of her portrait. Her story explores the often brutal nature of activism and, most audaciously, the plight of the female soul. I’m thrilled to have found such passionate partners in Erika and BBE.”
Black Bicycle Entertainment is in production on Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer; Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead, starring Jessica Chastain, which just wrapped principal photography; and Whitney Cummings’ The Female Brain.
The acquisition of Terrible Virtue was negotiated by CAA, which represents Black Bicycle, Ciarrocchi and Feldman. Feldman is repped for publishing by the Emma Sweeney Agency.