The story of infamous New York City drug kingpin Bumpy Johnson aptly fit in Chris Brancato’s wheelhouse. The co-creator, showrunner and executive producers of Epix and Disney TV Studios’ Godfather Of Harlem penned the 1997 film Hoodlum, which centered on the early life of Johnson in the 1920s and ’30s.
This time, he’s tackling Johnson’s life in the ’60s. “The idea now that Bumpy had been friends with Malcolm [X] made us think about this collision of civil rights… and Malcolm’s theory that when the gangster became politicized, America would tremble was something we wanted to explore,” Brancato said at Deadline’s Contenders Television virtual event, where he appeared with executive producer and star Forest Whitaker.
For Whitaker, Godfather of Harlem was an opportunity to give some historical context to issues that are relevant now. “It was exciting to me to get a chance to play around with this concept of criminality and a civil rights movement and what we got to see about people trying to achieve the American dream by any means that they could during a time when they were being oppressed and when things are difficult,” Whitaker said.
“We got a chance to explore a lot of those issues that are going on today. You also got a chance to explore the issues of the opioid crisis, of police brutality, of these things that we get a chance to go through another prism and get to maybe understand them even more so by looking at them from a past perspective.”
Godfather of Harlem is slated to return for a 10-episode second season, which Brancato teased is going to be “explosive.”
‘Season 2 is a momentous time in our nation’s history,” Brancato said. “LBJ is trying to pass the Civil Rights Act. Harlem is a seething cauldron about to explode in the face of police brutality. Bumpy Johnson is trying to manhandle the French connection dope, which is flooding Harlem, and he needs a piece of to control. The streets of Harlem and the mob is in disarray. Joe Bonanno wants to take over. All of this is based on historical truth, and Bumpy and his family and his friends are at the center of it. So that’s going to be explosive.”
Check out the panel video above.