Fox Searchlight Acquiring ‘Solitary’; Mahershala Ali Eyes Playing Albert Woodfox, Who Spent 43 Years In Solitary Confinement


EXCLUSIVE: Fox Searchlight is making a deal to acquire Solitary, a memoir that Albert Woodfox wrote about the 43 years he spent in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola Prison.

That is the longest stretch in the U.S. for a kind of incarceration that has roundly been denounced as being inhumane. It amounted to 23 hours in a 6-by-9 foot cell, with an hour a day in a fenced concrete “exercise yard,” but always alone. He drew that sentence following the 1972 murder of a prison guard that he has steadfastly denied committing. The book’s subtitle attests to the spine of the story: Unbroken by Four Decades In Solitary Confinement, My Story of Transformation and Hope.

Grove Press

Mahershala Ali is attaching to be executive producer of the film, with the intention to play Woodfox, whom he met in New Orleans recently after reading the book. The film will be produced by Jamie Patricof and Katie McNeill through Hunting Lane. Anonymous Content’s Carolyn Govers will be exec producer with Ali. Patricof worked with Ali on The Place Beyond The Pines. The book was published earlier this year by Grove Press.

Woodfox was released in 2016 and used the $90,000 he was paid for reparation for cruel and unusual punishment from the state of Louisiana to buy a house in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where he lives quietly today. He makes no claim to be a choirboy: The son of an illiterate mother and absent father, he grew up in the streets of New Orleans as part of a gang that got involved in stealing and other crimes. He hit a crossroads at 18, apprehended after a high-speed chase in car that belonged to his girlfriend’s brother but actually was stolen. Offered a four-year stretch at a city jail or half that time at Angola, he chose the latter. It was one of the toughest prisons in the country, where blacks and whites were segregated, beatings and violence and rape was rampant.

Briefly free, Woodfox soon was back behind bars. But his life changed after being caught after escaping and coming in contact with the philosophies of the Black Panthers before he was returned to prison. He considered it an awakening and became an activist inside the prison, and the book infers he was a convenient target to pin a murder on. Much of the tale in solitary is about his kinship with two other wrongly accused men with whom he managed to communicate and organize protests and hunger strikes and eventually reforms at Angola, despite their hardship.

The potential is for another meaty role for Ali, who, after his Emmy-nominated work on House of Cards, won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Best Picture winner Moonlight, and then two years later won Best Supporting Actor in Best Picture winner Green Book. He’s in Emmy contention for his work on the HBO series True Detective.

Ali is repped by WME, Anonymous Content and Sloane Offer.

The deal was made on behalf of the Ross Yoon Agency by Hotchkiss Daily & Associates.

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