EXCLUSIVE: Charles “Charlie” Wiggins, the most famous African American race car driver of the 1920s and 1930s, is to be the subject of a new biopic, whose producing partners will include racing staples IndyCar and Firestone.
Set in the roaring 20s and depression era 30s, Eraced will chronicle the triumphs and struggles of the once-legendary-now-little-known Charlie “Speed King” Wiggins, who worked his way from shoe shine to mechanic to star racer despite the inequities of segregation and Jim Crow laws. After being barred repeatedly from whites-only racing events, Wiggins became a leading light of the parallel Colored Speedway Association and won the prestigious annual Gold and Glory Sweep-stakes four times between 1926 and 1935. Despite his remarkable achievements, Wiggins died almost penniless thanks to crippling medical bills which he had to pay for decades after suffering a career-ending injury in 1936.
The pioneering sportsman will be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame next week in Detroit.
Ed Welburn, former General Motors Vice President of Global Design, and Madisun Leigh of Welburn Media Productions banner are developing the feature. Racing organization IndyCar has pledged support for physical production, marketing and promotional opportunities during production, and additional marketing resources, including media, at time of release. Tire maker Firestone will be a production partner.
Producing are Grant Cramer (Lone Survivor), Leigh (Driven) and Welburn. Billionaire WWT founder/Chairman David Steward and Polarity CEO David Steward II (Hair Love) have partnered as financiers and will serve as executive producers alongside Marsha Malone and Randy Greenberg (The Meg) who sourced, negotiated and will manage the brand partnerships.
B. Garida (Reagan & Gorbachev), Courtney Gay Wilson (Bronze), and Madisun Leigh (Raphead Response) adapted the feature screenplay from the Emmy-winning documentary and book, For Gold and Glory: Charlie Wiggins and the African American Racing Car Circuit, both written and produced by Todd Gould.
Producers are aiming for a spring 2022 production start date. Marsha Malone brokered the partnership between David Steward II’s media company Polarity and Welburn Media Productions.
Former General Motors exec Welburn was the highest-ranking African American in the U.S. automobile industry. He spearheaded development of the feature after watching Gould’s documentary. Having grown up in and around his father’s auto shop and spending his entire life devoted to automobile design and auto racing, he was inspired by Wiggins’ story and shocked that he had never heard of him or the African American racing car circuit known as the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes.
“Watching the documentary about Charlie, I was excited and at the same time deeply saddened that such an amazing piece of African American history, of American history, of car history, could be completely unknown to me, my enthusiast friends, and most auto racing experts,” said Welburn. “I decided that I had to bring Charlie’s story to life.”
“It’s yet another missing piece of the puzzle that is the contribution of African American ingenuity and genius to our country’s rich history,” added Leigh. “Charlie was a humble yet daring man who, despite the stifling impediment of Jim Crow laws and unimaginable personal tragedy, rose again and again to meet those challenges and obstacles.”
“When approached to participate in this independently produced feature film, IndyCar did not hesitate, as this is an important story that needs to be told,” commented Jimmie McMillian, Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Corporate Counsel of Penske Entertainment, which is comprised of Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), IndyCar and IMS Productions. “Charlie was a great racecar driver and inspirational person whose racing career was sadly impacted by the bigotry and prejudice of the world around him. We’re looking forward to shedding light on Charlie and Roberta’s extraordinary achievements and take pride in ensuring that this true tale of remarkable racing achievements comes to life.”
“Our Firestone brand’s roots in racing date back more than a century, and we’re proud to provide our experience and support to ensure one of the sport’s most inspiring stories is shared in an authentic way,” said Susie Long, Vice President, Talent, Diversity and Culture, Bridgestone Americas. “As Bridgestone continues to seek partnerships that promote diversity and create awareness for change in our communities, the chance to help introduce new audiences to Charlie Wiggins’ incredible journey of adversity and triumph seems like a perfect fit.”
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