Broadway director to make feature film debut

Broadway director Kenny Leon (“Fences,” “Raisin in the Sun”) has been tapped to helm “Cotton,” an indie feature based on the memoir by rape victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and the man she mistakenly identified, Ronald Cotton.

Producers David Friendly, Mark Clayman and Michael Menchel are looking to launch production early next year. Todd Komarnicki (“Elf”) has penned the adaptation.

“Cotton” would be Leon’s first feature film. He told Daily Variety he began exploring the idea of moving into features after shooting the TV movie of “Raisin in the Sun” and episodes of “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Private Practice.”

“I’ve been looking for an important story like this one,” Leon said. “With feature films, you have more freedom in telling the story.”

Friendly found Leon — who’s also artistic director of that city’s True Colors Theater Company — while he was in Georgia to shoot “Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son” and saw a profile of the director in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It struck me that Kenny was the ideal director because he handles powerful stories so well,” Friendly said.

The memoir, “Picking Cotton,” is based on Thompson-Cannino’s rape in 1984, in which she later identified the 22-year-old Cotton as her attacker, leading to his conviction and life sentence. Cotton maintained his innocence and was freed after 11 years, thanks to DNA testing; Thompson-Cannino and Cotton then met, became friends and traveled together through to promote understanding of flaws in the criminal justice system.

Thompson-Cannino and Cotton co-wrote the book, published last year, with Erin Torneo. Friendly, who’s producing through his Friendly Films shingle, is partnered with producer Clayman (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) through his Veralux Media banner and agent-turned-producer Menchel (“Escape”).

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