MGM won a heated film rights auction and will partner with black-ish creator Kenya Barris for a movie on iconic comedian Richard Pryor. Barris will make his directorial debut on a film he will write. The producers are Barris and his Khalabo Ink Society, Jennifer Lee Pryor and her Tarnished Angel and Tory Metzger for Levantine Films. Adam Rosenberg and Levantine’s Renee Witt will serve as executive producers.
This comes after the studio acquired rights for a biopic on Sammy Davis Jr.
Hollywood has long been fixated in turning Pryor’s life into a narrative film, which the comic kind of did after lighting himself on fire in a freebasing accident. He includes that in Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling back in 1986. The most serious attempt to mount a movie came in 2016, when The Weinstein Company and Pryor’s widow Jennifer teamed with director Lee Daniels on a script by Bill Condon and Danny Strong that was going to star Mike Epps as Pryor, with Oprah Winfrey playing Pryor’s grandmother, who ran a brothel and raised the iconic comic there; Eddie Murphy as Pryor’s father, Leroy “Buck Carter” Pryor and Kate Hudson to play Pryor’s widow, Jennifer. The film never made it to the start line.
Pryor’s incredible life deserves a film. MGM describes him as: a groundbreaking, once-in-a-lifetime talent, Richard Pryor was a masterful storyteller, a multi-talented entertainer, a comic of acerbic wit, and a survivor with no self-pity. With his raw, honest and deeply personal approach to comedy, Pryor transformed the entire art form through his work, inspiring and influencing the generations of artists to come.
Said Barris in a statement: “The way Pryor did what he did — with truth and specificity that was somehow self-aware and self-deprecating, and said with an unmatched level of vulnerability – that was the power and impact of his work,” said Barris. “Pryor had a voice that was distinctly his and, in many ways, comedy since then has been derivative of what he created. To me, this is a film about that voice, the journey that shaped it, and what it took for it to come to be.”
Said Jennifer Lee Pryor, “Having had a front row seat to much of Richard’s life, I am excited that the mystery of his genius is finally going to be explored and Kenya Barris is the perfect person to do it. Richard and Kenya are creative brothers.”
Said Michael De Luca, MGM Film Group Chairman and Pamela Abdy, MGM Film Group President, “The NY Times has said of Richard Pryor, he was an ‘iconoclastic standup comedian who transcended barriers of race and brought a biting, irreverent humor into America’s living rooms, movie houses, clubs and concert halls.’ We couldn’t agree more. Along with our partners Kenya, Tory, Jennifer and Adam, we are incredibly excited to share Richard’s extraordinary life with audiences the world over.”
Pryor was the first ever recipient of the prestigious annual Mark Twain Humor Prize, and arguably the greatest stand up comic of all time. He starred in nearly 50 films, and the series The Richard Pryor Show and Pryor’s Place. He wrote for shows including Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show and two Lily Tomlin specials, one of which earned him both an Emmy and a WGA Award. His first screenwriting credit Blazing Saddles, with Mel Brooks, earned him the WGA Award. His stand-up has been captured in four feature films, Live and Smokin’, Richard Pryor Live in Concert, Richard Pryor Live on Sunset Strip, and Here and Now (the latter also his 1982 directorial debut). His numerous recordings have earned him two platinum albums, five golds, and five Grammy’s.
Barris is represented by CAA, Artists First, and attorney Gregg Gellman. Pryor and Levantine are represented by Hogan Lovells.