EXCLUSIVE: Actress-writer Malea Rose and Paul Haggis along with his production company HWY 61 are in development and pitching a miniseries around town about the Massie case, the rape and murder investigation and trial that marked the last case of famed criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow. Under a working title of Dark Paradise, the mini is based on David E. Stannard’s book Honor Killing that Rose and Haggis optioned.

Haggis will direct the first episode and also will be the executive producer; Rose will be executive producer/creator and act in the series. She is co-writing the script with Keith Thomas. Leopold Gout, who was an exec producer on Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, will serve as a co-EP.

“Leopold Gout introduced me to Malea Rose and said there is a book that I might be interested in,” Haggis told Deadline. “So when I got to town for the Oscars, Leopold and Malea and I sat down and talked about it. It was about racism and intolerance in a setting that hadn’t been explored yet.”

Rose and Haggis began developing it after that meeting and have been engaged in the project since the beginning of the year.

Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow

The crime took place in Hawaii in the 1930s and spawned two court cases, and the story not only examines the evidence but also mirrors the country’s current racial divide, the “slut shaming” and sexual oppression that go along with the crime of rape, the corruption of power, and the best and worst of human nature in the wake of another crime: a murder.

The story is about a young, aristocratic socialite who comes to Hawaii when her husband is stationed at Pearl Harbor. One night she is found on the side of the road, bloody and beaten, and accuses five men of color of brutally raping her.

“The story kinda takes off after that,” said Rose, who grew up on the north shore of Kauai. “In Hawaii, before the 1930s when this story takes place, there was a white oligarchy with slaves and racism. So when this woman — who is related on one side to Alexander Graham Bell and on the other side to Teddy Roosevelt — when she comes forward with this, it puts the entire island and America in chaos. Because you are threatening at this time white womanhood. That threw the world into an outrage and let loose a storm of racial and sexual hysteria. This story is the reason that Hawaii is known as the most liberal state in the union today. It’s all because of these criminal cases.”

Adam Berkowitz at CAA is repping the project and will be packaging Dark Paradise. Rose is repped by Patrick Havern at the Green Room. Haggis is repped by CAA and Intellectual Property Group.