EXCLUSIVE: ABC is developing Women of the Movement (working title), an anthology series that chronicles the civil rights movement as told by the women behind it. The project, which landed at ABC with a significant penalty attached to it, comes from writer Marissa Jo Cerar (The Handmaid’s Tale) and a producing team that includes Jay-Z, Will Smith and Aaron Kaplan.
The first eight-episode season is inspired by the book Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement by Devery S. Anderson. It will center on Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till, who devoted her life to seeking justice in her son’s name following his brutal murder in the Jim Crow South.
Women of the Movement is being written by Cerar and executive produced by Jay-Z, Jay Brown and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith of Roc Nation; Will Smith and James Lassiter of Overbrook Entertainment; Aaron Kaplan and Dana Honor from Kapital Entertainment; Rosanna Grace of Serendipity Film Group; Alex Foster and John Powers Middleton of The Middleton Media Group; and David Clark at Mazo Partners. Kapital Entertainment is the studio.
Roc Nation, Overbrook and Kapital first set up an Emmett Till miniseries based on the same source material at HBO five years ago with a different writer.
When the project left HBO, the producers decided to focus on the women of the civil rights movement as Mamie Till was just one of many strong and important women behind the fight for equality. Cerar was brought in to write the reconceived series.
Earlier this year, Kaplan met with Dana Walden, Chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, and pitched the series as a contender for the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. Instead, Walden suggested it for ABC, which had been looking to return to the tentpole event limited series field it once ruled with hugely popular programs like the 1977 Roots.
ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke immediately jumped at the idea as the series’ focus on the women behind the civil rights movement aligns with her renewed focus on female-centered programming at the network.
Chicago native Emmett Till was only 14 when he visited relatives in Money, Mississippi in August 1955. There, he spoke with Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old White co-owner of a local grocery store. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to Till’s great-uncle’s house, forcefully took him and tortured him before shooting him in the head, throwing his body in the Tallahatchie River.
Till’s mother Mamie insisted on an open-casket public funeral, with the image of the boy’s mutilated body shocking the country. (The original casket is now at the Smithsonian.) In September 1955, Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder though later admitted to killing him under the shield of the double jeopardy provision.
Mamie did a very successful tour for the NAACP telling the story of her son, which is considered a tipping point for the civil rights movement.
Three months after Till’s death and two months after the trial, Rosa Parks of Montgomery Alabama refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider. “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back,” she later recalled.
Some believe that Mamie and Parks did meet in a symbolic passing of the baton in the cilvil rights movement, which Women In Movement will incorporate. The idea is for the second installment in the anthology series to focus on Parks and for each season to naturally leads to the next.
At ABC, Kapital also has drama series A Million Little Things and comedy American Housewife. Jay-Z and Smith, along with Brown and Lassiter, previously worked together as producers on the 2014 Annie remake.
Cerar is repped by Mikhail Nayfeld at Heroes & Villains. Overbrook is repped by Jason Sloane. Roc Nation is repped by Matt Johnson.