Producers Bill Duke, Gil Adler and Joel Eisenberg are developing a biopic on boxer Joe Louis with Duke directing, Variety has learned exclusively.
The trio has signed a deal with rights holders Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo of Kirmser Ponturo Group. The untitled project will focus on Louis’ historic two fights with German boxer Max Schmeling.
Joe Louis Barrow II, the son of the fighter, signed his father’s life rights to Kirmser Ponturo Group in 2013 and will also produce.
Originally intended as a stage play, Eisenberg approached Kirmser and inquired as to the project’s present status, then pitched the idea of a film and brought in Duke and Adler as his partners, and the deal was made.
Joe Louis became a symbolic figure in boxing during early global tensions leading to World War II, becoming among the first U.S. black cultural heroes. Schmeling was exploited as Hitler’s German superman but had no love for the Nazi regime.
Their two fights took place in Yankee Stadium. Schmeling handed Louis his first loss in their first fight in 1936; Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round of their rematch in 1938.
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“This project has been a passion project of mine for 25 years,” said Eisenberg. “It remains to me the greatest true-life story never filmed to its potential.”
Kirmser Ponturo Group is presently developing a biopic of Vince Lombardi with Legendary Pictures. Eisenberg recently closed a deal for “The Chronicles of Ara,” his 8-novel fantasy project co-written with Steve Hillard, with Ovation TV as a proposed 8-hour miniseries.
Adler’s credits as a producer include “Valkyrie” and “Superman Returns.” Duke directed the 2011 documentary “Dark Girls,” as well as “Sister Act 2” and “The Cemetery Club.”