EXCLUSIVE: Walden Media and Mandalay Sports Media’s Mike Tollin are joining forces on 51 Dons, a feature film about the 1951 University of San Francisco Dons football team whose story rivals the racial tolerance tales told in 42 and Remember The Titans. It’s a fast-tracked project and comes after Mandalay Sports just completed the Chuck Wepner boxing biopic The Bleeder with Spotlight and Ray Donovan‘s Liev Schreiber playing the brawler with the high threshold for punishment.
The 51 Dons script is being written by Isaac Adamson, who this week topped the Black List with Bubbles, a biopic of Michael Jackson told through the eyes of his beloved chimpanzee. Adamson has quite a tale to tell here as well. The Dons were an unheralded group of underdogs who finished an undefeated season of football and were poised to play in a bowl game, the first time the school reached that pinnacle. After being snubbed by the Rose Bowl and Sun Bowl, the Dons got a bid from the Orange Bowl in Miami. Trouble was, it was a Faustian bargain. The Orange Bowl Committee said the team had to be willing to leave its two black players behind and take the field with only white players. Despite the blow it would deal to their football program, and the money at stake, the team unanimously voted to decline the invitation and held tight to their motto: Undefeated, Untied, Uninvited.
Development and production veep Naia Cucukov will oversee the project on behalf of Walden Media, which is coming off the 3D film Everest and has next summer’s The BFG, the Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s classic about the lovable giant. Besides The Bleeder, Mandalay Sports got an NAACP Image Award nom for the HBO documentary Kareem: A Minority Of One.
Adamson is represented by CAA and his manager Lee Stobby.