FROM ENTERTAINER TO REVOLUTIONARY: Castle Rock has cut a deal with Emmy-winning actress Lynn Whitfield (“The Josephine Baker Story”) to star in and produce a movie about ’60s radical Angela Davis. Whitfield obtained the rights to Davis’ 1974 autobiography and life story about two years ago and has been in dialogue with her ever since.
After hiring a researcher and gathering informational materials on Davis from around the world, Whitfield said she was convinced “there was a movie there.” But Hollywood didn’t agree. “I told the idea to a lot of people, but they were afraid of it.”
But with the increased awareness of racial and social divisions lately, the actress said interest in her idea eventually grew. Castle Rock partner Martin Shafer affirmed, “Angela was an extremely important figure in very turbulent times, and we all thought it was an interesting canvas.”
Insisting the project is still in the “nascent stages of development,” Shafer said there’s always a chance that principal Rob Reiner could direct, since “he always chooses his projects from what we have in development and he’s very knowledgeable about Angela’s life.”
While Castle Rock is in the process of securing a screenwriter, Shafer said the movie will definitely be set in the current time, with flashbacks to Davis’ experiences in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“I want this to be a story about the woman, to really get into her head and heart and know how a privileged black woman in America could possibly become one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted,” said Whitfield, noting the story is likely to focus on the years 1969 to 1972, from the time Davis began teaching at UCLA until she was acquitted by an all-white jury of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder in connection with the 1970 shootout at the San Rafael courthouse.
Whitfield met Davis two years ago when the activist was teaching at San Francisco State (she now lectures at UC Santa Cruz) and expressed her desire to bring her life story to the big screen.
In a prepared statement, Davis said: “I’m excited about the possibility of the film, not so much because it is based on my autobiography but because we need multiple perspectives on the era of the ’60s, which has already been elevated to the status of myth in and public imagination. And hopefully the film will provide a view of the ’60s from a black woman’s perspective and will help to demystify the ’60s.”
Whitfield said Davis will serve as a consultant on the film. The actress-producer’s managers — Alan Somers, Mark Teitelbaum and Alan David — will act as advisers as well as exec producers, while Verna Jones will associate produce.
JERSEY FEELS MINNESOTA: Danny DeVito and Michael Shamberg’s Jersey Films has optioned Steven Baigelman’s spec script “Feeling Minnesota” for the young scribe to direct. “We want to bring new commercial talent into the mainstream and this is a way of doing it,” said Shamberg, who along with DeVito will exec produce and supervise Baigelman in his first directorial endeavor.
Shamberg describes the piece as “a very sexy, charged-up romance” about a guy who falls in love and runs off with his brother’s wife. While TriStar (where Jersey has a first-look) and some of the other studios reportedly passed on the project because they felt it was too dark, Baigelman freely admits, “It’s a dark , comic, violent, bittersweet romance about people who are not searching for the shiny, spiffy American dream of the past, but one reassembled from their broken dreams.”
Jersey optioned the script out of its own discretionary fund, in a deal negotiated by Baigelman’s William Morris agents Alan Gasmer and Jeff Field, and will give TriStar a first look once it has a rewrite and cast assembled. Shamberg said there will be a read-through in the next six weeks and negotiations are under way with producer Lawrence Bender (“Reservoir Dogs”) to come aboard the project.
KIDS WILL PLAY WITH MORRIS: After five years at ICM, rappers/actors Kid ‘n Play have decided to move their playpen to William Morris, where they’ll be represented by Joan Hyler in movies and TV and the agency’s New York-based Cara Lewis in music. Lewis and Hyler also rep rapper Queen Latifah, who had a role in Kid ‘n Play’s “House Party 2.”
Hyler, who’s been chasing the duo for a while, went to New York last week with their manager, Bernie Brillstein, to nail the deal. The guys were there finishing their next album and casting “Bodyguards,” a TV action-comedy series they created and will star in for ABC. It will be produced by Brillstein.
Hyler said Kid ‘n Play “have a major career ahead in the movie business” and believes them to be “the last functioning comedy team in the tradition of Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello — they’re an industry.”
In May, Kid (Christopher Reid) and Play (Christopher Martin) will star in the third installment of “House Party” for New Line. And as for future movie plans? Hyler said she’s in preliminary negotiations with a few studio heads around town about other Kid ‘n Play pix.
BAYER SELLS LYNN A COYOTE: Jordan Bayer has brokered his first deal as an independent agent since being canned along with six other ICMers last November, optioning Chris Hauty’s spec script “Don Coyote” to Fox for Jonathan Lynn to direct and produce. Lynn helmed Fox’s comedy hit “My Cousin Vinny” and has an overall deal at the studio.
“Coyote” is described as a poignant comedy western inspired by Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote tale. The story is about an angry young deputy and a larger-than-life character with delusions of grandeur who bond in the process of tracking down some desperados and the lawman’s girlfriend.
While he came across Hauty — a New York playwright who previously scripted “Avenue of the Giants” for Paramount/Trilogy — through a mutual friend, Bayer discovered two other neophyte writer clients through more unconventional means.
He put a small ad in the trades seeking unsolicited material and was sent more than 100 scripts in a week, from which he culled “a number of very exciting writers.” At his Santa Monica-based agency, Original Artists, Bayer also represents several other writers and writer-directors.