EXCLUSIVE: Harriet helmer Kasi Lemmons has come on to direct I Wanna Dance with Somebody, the upcoming biopic about the late Whitney Houston from TriStar Pictures. Lemmons will replace Stella Meghie, who insiders say parted ways with the project due to creative differences. She will remain on as exec producer.
“Early in my writing career I developed two projects for Whitney, and I had the opportunity to meet her,” Lemmons said. “She was a tremendous, incomparable artist, and her story is as awe-inspiring as it is tragic. I feel privileged to be part of bringing her life story and music to the audience.”
Naomi Ackie is on board to play Houston, a role she landed following a spirited auditioning process that saw a number of actresses vying for the role of the iconic singer.
“Preparing to play Whitney Houston has been an incredible experience,” she said. “I’ve learned so much more about her and myself than I could have imagined. I’m so excited to get on that film set and honor her legacy! With Kasi on board, I know we can create something truly wonderful.”
The screenplay is written by Academy Award nominee Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody) and will take audiences on an emotional, energetic journey through Houston’s career and music.
“Properly telling the honest, ‘no-holds-barred’ story of Whitney Houston is an exceptional responsibility,” said Clive Davis, the legendary record executive who first discovered Whitney’s talents in 1983 and worked with her throughout her career. “Kasi Lemmons not only brings a highly acclaimed, award-winning track record but possesses a clear understanding of Whitney as the matchless icon who triumphed musically while valiantly struggling with addiction.”
Alongside McCarten’s Muse of Fire Productions, the film is being produced by Pat Houston (Whitney) on behalf of the Houston Estate, Davis, Larry Mestel on behalf of Primary Wave Music, and Denis O’Sullivan (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Jeff Kalligheri (Submergence), who are also are financing via Compelling Pictures. Primary Wave Music is a partner of the Whitney Houston estate.
“We are so pleased to be working with a talented and visionary female director such as Kasi Lemmons,” said Pat Houston. “We know that Whitney’s legacy is safe in her hands and that she will showcase the once-in-a-lifetime icon that Whitney was.”
Houston is the most awarded female music artist of all time and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, selling more than 200 million records worldwide. Houston won six Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards and two Emmy Awards, among many others. Houston made her acting debut with the romantic thriller film The Bodyguard, which she recorded six songs for the film’s soundtrack, including “I Will Always Love You”. The song won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and became the best-selling physical single by a woman in music history. The soundtrack album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and remains the best-selling soundtrack album in history. In 2020, Whitney was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and became the first black artist to have 3 RIAA Diamond Awards.
Sony and TriStar Pictures will release the film in theaters at Thanksgiving in 2022.
Lemmons first feature, Eve’s Bayou, was recently selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Her other credits include, The Caveman’s Valentine, which opened the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Talk to Me, which earned the 2008 NAACP Image Award for outstanding directing, and Black Nativity. She most recently directed Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo as the iconic freedom fighter, which was nominated for two Academy Awards. She is currently developing the The Shadow King, a feature film based on the critically acclaimed novel by Maaza Mengiste, and a series, Ring Shout, based on the novel by P. Djéli Clark for Skydance TV.
Lemmons is represented by The Gersh Agency and Nina Shaw at Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano
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