Studio: Universal (released Oct. 29)
Storyline: This biopic portrays the life of music legend Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) and his journey from an impoverished childhood in the South to worldwide acclaim. The film, electrified by Charles’ music, delves into painful subjects including his blindness, addiction to heroin, guilt over the death of a younger brother and marital infidelities.
About the script: Like Charles, White is an African-American from the small-town South who struggled with heroin addiction. “This (film) is a story about a black man as a person — not as a cartoon,” says White. “In this business, a lot of stories about black people are either about the noble, above-board Negro that we all learn something from — who’s not really real, or they’re stupid clowns that none of us would want to have to dinner. “(Ray Charles) was a human being. And that’s the key to black films selling here and abroad: If you tell human stories, other humans are going to show up to watch them.”
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Biggest challenge: White formed a strong relationship with Charles. “The hardest thing to do,” he says, “was to make sure that I did not mess up Ray Charles’ life.”
Breakthrough idea: “What made the (biographical) facts come together to make a movie,” says White, “was when I spoke with Della Bea Robinson,” Charles’ wife of many years. “Those two loved each other. What I wanted to do was bring that love to the screen, because without the emotion, none of this works.”
Standout scene: Charles’ mind and body are ravaged by heroin withdrawal symptoms, and he slips into an ethereal dream where he’s having a heart-wrenching conversation with his late mother and brother. “When you’re a junkie,” says White, “you have horrible nightmares. Mr. Charles told me about his. So we combined that with the love for his mother, and his guilt about his brother George.”
Choice line: Charles tells his new backup singers that they’re going to be known as the Raelettes. One of them (Regina King) replies, “Does that mean we have to let Ray?”
Writer’s bio: White has written scripts for Sidney Poitier and Danny Glover (Ray is his first to make it to the screen). He is working on a project with Dimension starring Usher.