Luke replaces Snipes in ‘Anna’

Spike Lee directing WWII drama 'Miracle'

Derek Luke has replaced Wesley Snipes in a lead role in “Miracle at St. Anna,” the WWII drama that Spike Lee is directing in Italy. Touchstone is in talks for domestic distribution rights on the independently financed film.

Snipes withdrew because it became too difficult for him to leave the U.S. and shoot in Italy while he fights federal tax-fraud charges.

Though Snipes has pleaded not guilty to evading taxes and falsely claiming millions of dollars in tax refunds, the actor had problems when he traveled to Africa after his indictment to complete work on “Gallow Walker.” At the time, a U.S. magistrate gave him until Jan. 10 to surrender his passport.

Luke, who plays an Army Ranger in Afghanistan in the Robert Redford-directed “Lions for Lambs,” is re-enlisting in the Army, circa WWII, and joins an ensemble that includes John Turturro, James Gandolfini, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson and Tory Kittles.

Luke will play one of four members of the U.S. Army’s all-black 92nd Division who get separated from their squad behind enemy lines. The soldiers, bitter about racism and the feeling that their own government treats its enemy better than it does them, finds humanity in the small Tuscan village of St. Anna. James McBride wrote the script.

Luke, who made his starring debut in the title role of “Antwone Fisher,” just completed the ensemble romantic comedy “Definitely, Maybe.”

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