One of 3 Jesse Owens projects currently in development, Anthony Mackie’s drew the interest of Relativity Media earlier this year, putting the film closer to going into production, for a 2016 release.
Any previous plans have now been derailed thanks to recent news that Relativity Media is sliding towards near-certain bankruptcy. According to Variety, producers of the film successfully canceled ongoing negotiations that would have seen Relativity become the film’s distributor. Had the project not been released from the negotiations, it would most likely have been caught up in drawn-out proceedings that will commence when Relativity is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today.
The 11 year old "mini studio" has has tallied up debt of over $300 million, thanks in part to a number of box office bombs.
So it’s one step backwards, yet again, for the film, which has long been a passion project for Mackie – one that he’s been pursuing for a few years now. No director is yet attached, although, 4 years ago, Mackie said that his dream director for the project was Jonathan Demme, who’s certainly no stranger to documenting the lives of real-life figures – from Neil Young, to Jimmy Carter, to slain Haitian journalist Jean Dominique; although those were all documentaries.
It’s competing with another Owens biopic, "Race," which is being directed by Stephen Hopkins ("The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"), which John Boyega was initially set to star in, but later dropped out to do "Star Wars," and was replaced by Canadian actor Stephan James ("Selma").
"Race," which also stars William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Jason Sudeikis and Carice van Houten is currently set for an April 8, 2016 release. Focus Features is releasing the film, which does have the backing and support of the Owens’ family and foundation, so it shouldn’t face the same kind of hurdles that other recent biopics have had to wrestle with.
A third Owens project has Antoine Fuqua attached to direct. It’s set up at Disney, and will be based on ESPN anchor Jeremy Schaap’s book, "Triumph."
Which of the 3 will make it to the finish line first? Well, right now, the one starring Stephan James seems the most likely. I do wonder, assuming all 3 of these films are released over a 1 to 3 year span, if audiences will be hungry enough for 3 Jesse Owens feature films within such a short width of time.
The son of an Alabama sharecropper, Owens shattered Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning a record 4 gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. Owens’ victories are considered among the greatest athletic feats of all time.
Fuqua’s project does also have the backing of the Jesse Owens Foundation, and the Jesse Owens Trust.
By the way, Laurens Grant’s acclaimed 2011 Jesse Owens documentary, co-produced by Stanley Nelson – the team behind the Emmy-Award-winning documentary "Freedom Riders" – is available on home video.