Tyler Perry to Play Oscar Micheaux in HBO Biopic
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Tyler Perry to Play Oscar Micheaux in HBO Biopic

In “way out of left field” news today…

Tyler Perry is attached to star in an HBO biopic on pioneering filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, playing Micheaux in the film.

Although maybe it’s actually *logical* casting, given that Micheaux and Perry both share a propensity for the melodramatic. But really, this I didn’t see coming.

Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (who did the same for various live musicals like “The Wiz Live!” and “Hairspray Live!” as well as the “A Raisin in the Sun” telepic which aired on ABC in 2008) are behind the project, based on film historian Patrick McGilligan’s 2007 biography “Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker,” which Sony Pictures TV is backing . In addition to starring, Perry will also executive produce with Zadan and Meron.

Our man Charles Murray, executive producer and writer of Netflix/Marvel’s “Luke Cage” series and many others, is attached to script the Micheaux biopic for HBO although no director is attached at this time.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Tyler Perry to bring Oscar Micheaux’s inspiring and trailblazing life story to HBO,” said Zadan.

Added Meron: “There are so many parallels between the groundbreaking work that Micheaux pioneered and Perry’s achievements as an artist that it feels like a natural fit.”

It has confounded me that an official feature film on the life and work of Oscar Micheaux (whether a comprehensive documentary made for the big screen, or a scripted biopic with proper financial backing) has never been made – especially in a time when there seems to be so much interest in films based on the lives of real life public figures. Granted he’s been gone for over 50 years now, but that’s even more of a reason to bring his life story to the screen, if only so that there’s a necessary broader awareness of him – a pioneer who seems, for all intents and purposes, except in certain cinephile circles, lost in the annals of cinema history.

When I was in film school, I learned nothing of the man, and would only really discover him after; and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So a film on his life and accomplishments is very necessary. But I didn’t expect it to come in this particular package. It’s the kind of project that could serve as a break-out role for an up-and-coming black actor who’s better for the part. It has Emmy awards written all over it. Regardless of how I feel, this is what HBO is giving us.

In terms of existing films on Micheaux’s life, there was Pearl Bowser’s 1994 documentary “Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux & the Story of Race Movies,” but that wasn’t specifically about Micheaux; rather a telling of the history of black cinema, specifically during the first few decades of the industry’s existence, when so-called “Race movies” were made.

Looking ahead, currently in development are: writer/director JD Walker’s Oscar Micheaux feature film (a scripted project we first alerted to several years ago, and have been updating you on since then), titled “Oscar Micheaux: Negro Pioneer,” and a feature documentary called “Oscar’s Comeback,” directed by Lisa Collins, which takes a look at a festival celebrating a Micheaux – a festival in an all-white town (Gregory, South Dakota).

We can now add this Tyler Perry-led higher profile biopic to the growing list. Your guess is as good as mine in terms of what to expect from it. Keep in mind that audiences have essentially rejected Tyler Perry in films in which he isn’t playing his signature character, Madea. See films like “Alex Cross” which were box office duds. So who the target audience for this is, HBO will need to explain. But, who knows, maybe he’ll surprise us!

Variety was first to report the news on the HBO project.

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