EXCLUSIVE: Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion who recently was pardoned by President Donald Trump from his conviction for violating the Mann Act in 1910 at the height of the Jim Crow era, has suddenly become a prized film property. Reinaldo Marcus Green, who wrote and directed the Sundance film Monsters and Men, will helm The Big Blow, which Oren Moverman adapted from a Joe Landsdale novella that is inspired by Johnson’s own story. Giannina Scott and Ridley Scott are producing at Scott Free.
This comes just after Sylvester Stallone launched Balboa Productions with plans to start the shingle off partnered with MGM on a biopic of Johnson, whose story was told on screen in a slightly fictionalized form in the 1970 film The Great White Hope.
The Big Blow is set against the backdrop of a giant hurricane that flattened Galveston, Texas in 1900. Local black champion Little Arthur must go head-to-head not only against prejudiced social and relational divides, but with a ringer from Chicago – Jim McBride – a dirty-fighting racist hired by the local Sporting Club to do one thing: Kill Little Arthur and restore the championship to a white fighter. As with the real Jack Johnson, Little Arthur further defies social constructs by being in a forbidden relationship with a white woman.
The film is ready to go. Giannina Scott brought Landsdale’s novella to Ridley Scott and she enlisted Moverman to write the script. They then engaged Green, whose Monsters and Men won the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding First Feature and will be released by NEON in October.
Said Green: “When I heard that Scott Free and Oren Moverman were involved, I asked for the pen and where to sign. Oren is one of the most prolific writers working today and Scott Free has made hands down some of the best films ever made. The Big Blow is an opportunity for me to dive into the mind, body and spirit of one of the most iconic and complex human beings to ever walk the planet. Someone who lived his life to the absolute fullest whilst fighting (literally and figuratively) for his life, during a very dark time in America. The film combines my love of history and sports, while telling a deeply human story about a man whose story needs to be told.”
Said Giannina Scott: “From the moment I first read the novella inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, I knew I had to get this story out into the world. Now that we have Oren and Reinaldo on board as our creative partners, I am looking forward to beginning work on what I know will be a timely and impactful film.”
Ridley Scott called the drama “a fascinating story, made even more timely with the recent announcement that after all these years, Johnson was recently granted a presidential pardon. Giannina has been dogged in her commitment to make this project happen and, now with this amazing creative team that has been assembled, I’m convinced this is going to be one hell of a compelling film.”
Said Moverman, whose writing credits include The Messenger and Love & Mercy: “Joe Lansdale’s account of Galveston, Texas, 1900, mixing fact and fiction into the legend of the storm of the century and the Jack Johnson origin story, is a mind-blowing journey to the core of the unpardonable American psyche.”
Moverman is repped by WME. Green is repped by WME and attorney André Des Rochers of Gray Krauss Sandler Des Rochers.