Tyler Perry to Play Pioneering Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux in HBO Biopic (EXCLUSIVE)

Oscar Micheaux Tyler Perry
REX/Shutterstock

HBO is developing a biopic of pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux that has Tyler Perry on board to star.

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are shepherding the project for Sony Pictures TV through their Storyline Entertainment banner. Perry is set to executive produce with Zadan and Meron but does not plan to direct.

Charles Murray, an alum of “Sons of Anarchy” and History’s redo of “Roots,” is penning the script. It’s based on the 2007 biography “Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker” by film historian Patrick McGilligan.

“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.”

A novelist turned director, Micheaux raised the money to produce the film adaptation of his 1917 book “The Homesteader” after rejecting an option offer from another company when they refused to let him direct.

Micheaux is believed to have helmed more than 40 features between 1919 and 1948, working outside the confines of Hollywood in the face of discrimination against an African-American entrepreneur.

Early on, Micheaux tackled the problem of distribution by personally driving prints of his films to black communities around the country, where they played to segregated audiences. His films largely featured all-black casts and were an effort to counter racial stereotypes with humanistic portrayals of black life. His notable works included 1920’s “Within Our Gates,” a response to D.W. Griffith’s epic “Birth of a Nation”; 1931’s “The Exile,” his first sound picture; 1938’s “Swing!” and 1940’s “The Notorious Elinor Lee.” Many of Micheaux’s films have been lost to history given the lack of preservation and the decomposition of film stock of the era.

Micheaux died in 1951 at the age of 67. The Directors Guild of America recognized his contributions to film with a posthumous award for directorial achievement in 1986.

Perry’s experience as an industry outsider who made it on his own terms in film and TV echoes Micheaux’s experience more than a half-century before. Perry has had a string of box office hits since he took on the big screen in 2002 with the independently produced “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” He’s produced a number of hit TV comedies (“Meet the Browns,” “House of Payne”) out of his home base in Atlanta. At present he’s a partner with Oprah Winfrey in the OWN cabler, where his primetime soap “The Haves and Have Nots” ranks as the channel’s most-watched program.

Zadan and Meron had long been looking to work with Perry on a project. When McGilligan’s Micheaux book came on their radar, the producers realized it was a perfect fit for Perry, and the trio brought it to HBO. The movie will cover most of Micheaux’s life.

Zadan and Meron are no stranger to biopics. The prolific producers delivered highly rated telepics on the Beach Boys and Judy Garland to ABC in 2000 and 2001, respectively. They stirred controversy in 2003 with the unflinching miniseries “The Reagans,” which moved from CBS to Showtime after an outcry from conservatives. The pair also tackled the Three Stooges for ABC in 2000, the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis story for CBS in 2002 and Lucille Ball’s off-camera life for CBS in 2003.

Zadan, Meron and Perry are exec producers on the untitled Micheaux project. Mark Nicholson is co-exec producer.

Perry is repped by WME and Ziffren Brittenham. Zadan and Meron just moved to ICM Partners.

(Pictured: Oscar Micheaux and Tyler Perry)

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  1. Film Town says:

    There is a feature film on Oscar Micheaux currently in development

  2. Christie Brudon says:

    Tyler Perry, you are my hero and I love you. You inspire me to keep on keeping on.

  3. hornacek says:

    “Tyler Perry to play …”

    PASS.

  4. Weary says:

    I’ll put this on my “don’t watch” list.

  5. Soon to be Famous says:

    I’ve confused. According to the PC left, there were no black filmmakers until Obama called out Hollywood for its lack of diversity, yet, this Oscar dude (who is black) made films during the silent era? So there were black filmmakers dating back to the silent era? How can this be?

  6. cadavra says:

    Micheaux is certainly a ground-breaker, but let’s not kid ourselves: his films are amateurish to the point of being unwatchable; Ed Wood’s pictures are far more professional. I hope they don’t portray him as some sort of genius restrained by his race. He deserves all the credit in the world for what he managed to accomplish, but hopefully his films themselves will be recreated with some accuracy.

  7. Christopher says:

    Hardly a mistake, so Tyler is a bit more fair skinned. He resembles Micheaux, and has often shown that he is a versatile actor. Plus, his name value will get the project off the ground. Micheaux deserves to be recognized and I for one am glad to hear about this.

  8. yellowmalibu@iwon.com says:

    I think this is a mistake. Tyler Perry first of all is fair-skinned. Don’t we remember what happened when they cast Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone? Second, he doesn’t have enough serious material under his belt (how many Madea films did he do?) to be widely accepted in this role. This smacks of a vanity project, almost as if he’s trying to legitimize his career with more dramatic roles. Let Wesley Snipes or Don Cheadle (sp), or Morris Chesnutt play the lead role and step behind the camera on this one.

    • Ann says:

      My friend, I think you are wrong. It smacks of hypocrisy to dismiss Perry because of the shade of the color of his skin when Hollywood routinely casts people for roles when they aren’t even the same race as the original character. Morgan Freeman was cast in Shawshank Redemption as ‘Red’ and I promise you Foreman is not even close to being a curly redheaded Irishman, the original character for the role.

      Second, Jamie Fox spent a few years on the tv series ‘In living Color’ before doing the movie ‘Ray’ which he took home an Academy Award for. I’m sure Foxx got a lot of the same complaints you’re giving now.
      As far as legitimizing his career, Perry has already done that. He doesn’t need an HBO special to round himself out. He has already established himself. I see this more as an attempt to expand his repertoire and maybe get the word out about this little known Black film maker. I think Perry is more than capable of doing this role. I agree with HBO’s assessment, he’ll bring a lot of experience to the role. He can probably empathize with this character more than anyone else. HBO hit the nail on the head when they selected him. I can’t wait to see his performance.

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