This seems timely, as we continue to celebrate several recent Hollywood “firsts” when it comes to recognizing the contributions made by people of African descent.
Roughly 7 years ago, a biopic of the late African American lawyer, entrepreneur, Wall Street wizard and philanthropist, Reginald Lewis – once the wealthiest black man in this country – was put into development with Jamie Foxx attached to play the lead role.
Stephen Belber (who has penned scripts for TV shows Rescue Me and Law & Order: SVU) was tapped to adapt Lewis’ book Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun, his inspiring story of how he would grow out of poverty to become the wealthiest black man in American in the 80’s, building a billion dollar multinational company in Beatrice International (a food, beverage and grocery store conglomerate – the largest African American owned and managed business in the USA at the time), and accumulating a personal fortune of over $400 million at the time of his death in 1993 from brain cancer.
A Harvard Law School graduate who rose to prominence as a lawyer, financier, and business leader, Lewis was the first African American ever to close an overseas billion dollar leveraged buyout deal. He acquired an unprecedented global conglomerate of 64 companies in 31 countries, and paved the way for future entrepreneurs and black leaders through his life’s work.
Lewis reportedly didn’t exactly have the most likable of personalities; he was arrogant, temperamental, tough, principled, fiercely driven, and formidable, and he expected the same from everyone who worked with or for him. Men like him usually are all those things and more, which tends to help explain their successes. But he was also very giving as a philanthropist, and was very aware of his position as a wealthy black man in this country, and the image he portrayed. He made a number of shrewd business deals that catapulted him to prominence, and died way too early at just 50 years old.
As a vehicle for Jamie Foxx to star in, with comparisons to Will Smith’s Pursuit of Happyness, it seemed plausible at the time of the project’s announcement, but, since then, there haven’t been any reported new developments that indicate it’s still in the works. Although IMDB still lists the project with Thomas Carter (Coach Carter, Save the Last Dance, and numerous TV shows) attached to direct, although Jamie Foxx’s name is absent. Whether it’ll ever be made is unknown at this time. There doesn’t even appear to be a studio attached.
But while we wait to learn more, you should be aware that a documentary (the first of its kind) on Lewis’ life has been made as I just discovered, and is set to premiere on your local PBS station this month – fittingly, since it’s Black History Month. And for those without an affiliate that will air the documentary, it will become available for streaming nationally at thirteen.org after February 18.
Titled Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire, the film chronicles the life and legacy of the business pioneer, philanthropist and titan. It is the premiere episode of a new documentary series titled Pioneers, which explores the lives and legacies of those men and women who helped pave the way for development, success and innovation in our region.
“Reginald Lewis is a pioneer because he executed a $1 billion buyout of Beatrice International Foods. No one had done anything of that size – black nor white. He’s the first African American to do an overseas buyout,” says Mrs. Loida Lewis, wife of Reginald F. Lewis.
Additional high praise from Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express notes, “There is no doubt that Reginald Lewis’ success paved the way for me, and many others, and I think that really is the test and demonstration of real leadership.”
Narrated by Broadway, film and television star Norm Lewis, Pioneers: Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire invites viewers to discover and celebrate the legacy of Reginald F. Lewis, the first black billion-dollar deal-maker; leader of the first African American Law Firm on Wall Street; the first to be accepted at Harvard University Law School without applying; and among the first 5 black males to have a museum named after him.
Ann Benjamin directed the documentary, which is executive produced by Geraldine Moriba. Rachel Kahn Taylor and Elizabeth Muentes are associate producers. Diane Masciale is executive producer of the Pioneers series.
Watch a promo for the film below: