Lifetime has extended its partnership with journalist Robin Roberts for four new movies and they are about to fuel the soul with Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story. The movie will star Tony Award nominee, SAG and Grammy Award-winning actress Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black, Broadway’s The Color Purple) as the iconic gospel legend and civil rights activist while Tony winner Kenny Leon (Broadway’s A Raisin in the Sun, Fences, Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias) will direct. The pic comes from Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions. Roberts will executive produce alongside Linda Berman.
Born in New Orleans, Mahalia began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement. Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality. Jackson’s story will continue to strengthen the need for more stories about Black legends that are often overlooked.
The news of The Mahalia Jackson Story comes after Lifetime’s wild success of The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel which became Lifetime’s highest-rated original movie since 2016.
“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on Steel Magnolias and Robin Roberts on Stolen by my Mother, I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, EVP of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions, Lifetime and LMN. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”
The movie marks a reunion for Leon and Brooks. The duo previously worked together on the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing. An Emmy nominee and Tony and Obie Award winner, Leon directed Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier’s Play as well as Children of a Lesser God, Holler If Ya Hear Me, The Underlying Chris, The Mountaintop, Stick Fly, Fences, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. He also directed the Netflix adaptation of the stage play American Son starring Kerry Washington which was recently nominated for an Emmy.
Brooks is best known for her role as fan-favorite Taystee in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. On stage, Brooks starred as Beatrice in the aforementioned The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Leon. Brooks made her Broadway debut in the Tony-winning revival of The Color Purple. She starred in The Day Shall Come opposite Anna Kendrick and the Chinonye Chukwu-directed Clemency starring Alfre Woodard, Wendell Pierce and Aldis Hodge which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Her other TV and film credits include Master of None, High Mantenance, Girls, Angry Birds and Close Enough.
Roberts is repped by WME. Brooks is repped by CAA, Door24, and Erik Hyman. Leon is repped by CAA.