EXCLUSIVE: Just as his feature directorial debut The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind makes its Sundance Film Festival debut tonight, Chiwetel Ejiofor has been set by Los Angeles Media Fund to adapt and direct The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, based on the bestselling book by Jeff Hobbs. Antoine Fuqua and Rebecca Hobbs are producing, along with Andrea Calderwood and Kat Samick. Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman will produce on behalf of Los Angeles Media Fund, which will fully finance the project.
Growing up outside of Newark, NJ, Robert Peace dreamed of making his single mother proud by escaping his crime-ridden city. He defied the odds and went to Yale on a full scholarship. He was captain of the water polo team and graduated with honors in molecular biochemistry and biophysics. All this promise and potential was dashed when he was gunned down at age 30 by rival drug dealers just blocks from where he grew up. The drama tells the story of his struggle and tragic murder.
“I’m deeply honored to bring Robert Peace’s painful and profound story to the screen,” Ejiofor said. “A story that reminds us that the social mobility at the heart of the American Dream remains, for many, as stubbornly elusive now as it ever was.”
Netflix acquired to release The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which Ejiofor adapted based on the autobiographical book of the same name by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Ejoifor optioned the 2009 book years ago, and got backing from Participant, BBC Films and BFI for a feature that will follow Sundance with a Berlin premiere before it launches on Netflix in the spring. Ejiofor previously directed short films, and all this adds a dimension to a most respected actor and star of such films as 12 Years a Slave, Love Actually, Redbelt, Children of Men, The Martian, Salt, Inside Man, and American Gangster.
“Robert’s story is particularly relevant today, now more than ever,” said Fuqua, who’s producing. “I’m thankful we have found great partners with Jeffrey and Simon and fortunate to have Chiwetel on board to bring this incredibly powerful story to life.” Fuqua most recently directed The Equalizer 2 and is in post-production on the documentary What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali.
“Rob was a brilliant and ambitious man with the widest grin who had the opportunity to achieve anything he wanted but was not willing to leave his roots behind in the quest for his American dream,” says Hobbs. “He was also a loyal friend to me and my husband Jeff, who wrote this important book about his life. Antoine, Kat, Jeff and I couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with LAMF and our tremendous filmmaker Chiwetel and his producer Andrea to bring Rob’s astonishing story to the screen.”
Said Los Angeles Media Fund’s Soros and Simon Horsman: “There is so much to be gleaned from Robert’s paradoxical life, which was both inspiring and heartbreaking. We know we are in the most capable hands with Chiwetel at the helm and Antoine, Rebecca, Andrea and Kat as our producing partners in striving to do justice to Robert’s legacy and to Jeff’s incredible book.”
Alisa Tager will oversee the creative aspects of the project for the company.
Soros and Horsman are currently in pre-production with the Los Angeles Lakers and Haven Entertainment on a five-part docuseries covering the team’s Showtime championship era; they are also in post-production on Shirley, a psychological thriller directed by Josephine Decker and starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman.
The deal was brokered by CAA Media Finance, which is handling worldwide sales. Ejiofor is repped as a writer-director by CAA, Casarotto Ramsay and Hirsch Wallerstein. Fuqua Films is repped by CAA and Ziffren Brittenham; Hobbs is Myman Greenspan; Calderwood is Lee & Thompson; LAMF was repped by attorney Irwin Rappaport.