EXCLUSIVE: Deon Taylor is set to direct Freedom Ride, a period drama that will be produced by The Hideaway Entertainment’s Matthew Rhodes (Cherry), INDE Companies’ Kim Leadford (The Butler), Mark R. Harris (Crash) and Hidden Empire Film Group’s Roxanne Avent Taylor (Fatale). Taylor, whose films include Fatale and Black and Blue, has written the script with Steven Vosburgh and Dusdi Fissette based on first-person accounts by a dozen of the original Freedom Riders, including the late civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.
Taylor and his Hidden Empire Film Group partner Robert F. Smith will be exec producers, along with Benjamin Crump and his company Brooklyn Media. Crump is the noted civil rights attorney who represents the family of the late George Floyd and repped the family of Trayvon Martin. The filmmakers will go out quickly to land a distributor for the package, in time for a hoped-for summer start date.
The film is set in 1961 and details the actions of a multiracial group of young activists — led by Lewis, years before the future congressional leader had his skull cracked by an Alabama state trooper when he and other civil rights protesters crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge. This movie tells the story of the moment when Lewis and others decide to take matters into their own hands in the fight against racial discrimination and hate. After signing their own last wills and testaments, these determined Freedom Riders journeyed by bus into the deep segregated South where mob violence and police brutality against Black Americans ran rampant and unchecked. Even with federal law on their side, the Freedom Riders were brutally beaten, arrested, and firebombed, all the while remaining nonviolent in the face of violence. In the end, their refusal to back down forces the government to finally take action and desegregate all the buses, trains, public places and facilities used in interstate travel.
To Taylor, this was an unprecedented moment where never before, with the exception of times of war, had young Americans been willing to die en masse for the cause of justice and the chance to change the hearts and minds in the name of equality.
Said Taylor: “John Lewis once said, ‘You are a light. You are the light! Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light…Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.’ His words not only resonate with me as human, but inspire me to tell his amazing story. Working with our great partners at The Hideaway Entertainment, INDE Companies and the legendary Benjamin Crump is such a blessing. We are going to create an amazing film and really do John Lewis proud, I promise you!”
Screenwriter, documentarian and executive producer Steven Vosburgh credits Lewis as providing the project’s initial spark, in 2005, when he first began traveling the country recording and compiling the oral histories of over a dozen living Freedom Riders for a documentary. Lewis encouraged Vosburgh to dramatize the story in order to reach a wider audience and share the dangers the activists took. Vosburgh would also work extensively with journalist and political figure John Seigenthaler, a key player in Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department, and one of the key protagonists in the script.
“Deon Taylor is the perfect filmmaker for this story,” said Crump. “He has a resonance with the culture that rings authentic for this film. His commitment to getting the vote out via his Be Woke.Vote organization and his organization of peaceful marches for social justice in the name of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, pay great respect to the legacy of John Lewis. I am proud to call him a friend.”
“We are very excited to have Deon Taylor join this ride,” said Rhodes. “Deon is a fearless and passionate filmmaker that brings an emotional depth, complexity, and a fresh vision to all his work. He is an artistic activist who will tell this monumental story from history with the contemporary relevance it still has today.”
Charles Bonan and Daniel McCarney will be exec producers along with The Hideaway’s Jonathan Gray and Kristy Grisham and Ryan Cassells will co-produce.
The film is targeting Atlanta and Birmingham, AL as locations.
Taylor and Crump are repped by UTA and the Artistry Collective. Deal was negotiated by Christian Simonds of Reed Smith LLP on behalf of The Hideaway Entertainment.