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Film News Roundup: Hattie McDaniel Biopic in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

In today’s film news roundup, a Hattie McDaniel biopic is in the works, Orion buys “Anna and the Apocalypse,” “Jumanji” actress Madison Iseman gets a lead role, and Women In Film gives 16 grants.

BIOPIC LAUNCHED

Producers Alysia Allen and Aaron Magnani have joined forces to produce a biopic about pioneering actress Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award, Variety has learned exclusively.

Allen has obtained the film rights to author Jill Watts’ biography, “Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood,” and will produce with Magnani, whose credits include “The Last Word.”

McDaniel, the daughter of freed slaves, was an acclaimed vaudeville performer and one of the first black women on radio. She was cast as the feisty Mammy in “Gone with the Wind,” for which she won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1939 — one of eight Academy Awards won by the film.

Allen is also developing the feature, “Away From The Bridge” with Keesha Sharp (“Lethal Weapon”) and is the founder of the national book club, Mocha Girls Read. Watts, a professor of history and coordinator of the film studies program at California State University, San Marcos, also wrote, “God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story” and “Mae West: An Icon in Black and White.”

ORION RETURNS

Orion Pictures, recently relaunched by MGM as a stand-alone marketing and distribution company, has acquired the North American and Latin American rights to zombie holiday musical “Anna and the Apocalypse.”

Orion plans to release “Anna and the Apocalypse” in the 2018 holiday season. The film stars Ella Hunt, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye, Malcolm Cumming, Ben Wiggins, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, and Marli Siu.

The film, which premiered at Fantastic Fest, is based on the 2010 short film “Zombie Musical.” It’s directed by John McPhail from a script by Alan McDonald and the late Ryan McHenry. Producers are Naysun Alae-Carew and Nicholas Crum of Blazing Griffin in association with Tracy Jarvis of Parkhouse Pictures and Creative Scotland.

CASTING

Madison Iseman, who stars in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” has landed one of the lead roles in the dark comedy “Crash Blossom.”

The movie is directed by Patrick Shanahan from his own script about a prominent Southern family of blue-blood media moguls deteriorating at the crossroads of its past and future. The cast includes Reece Thompson, Beth Broderick, Jay Huguley, Olivia Applegate, and Ira David Wood III (father of Evan Rachel Wood).

Iseman plays an 18-year-old debutante. “Crash Blossom” is currently in post-production and will screen on the festival circuit later this year.

The production company is Denim Buffalo Films. Shanahan produced with Anderson Boyd. Executive producers are Cliff Bleszinski, Niall Hanley, and Rick French.

FINISHING FUND

Women In Film, Los Angeles has announced 16 recipients of the 32nd annual Film Finishing Fund, chosen from 370 feature-length narrative films, documentaries, and shorts that were submitted.

“One of the ways we achieve gender parity is by ensuring that female filmmakers have the resources they need to produce excellent work,” WIF executive director Kirsten Schaffer said.

Stella Artois provided four new $25,000 grants for fiction and documentary films by women — “Pathways,” directed by Florencia Krochik; “Nuns on the Bus,” directed by Melissa Regan; “Half the Picture,” directed by Amy Adrion and “United Skates,” directed and produced by Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler.

Narrative feature films receiving funds include “Nancy,” directed and written by Christina Choe; “Jinn,” directed and written by Nijla Mu’min; “Rust Creek,” directed by Jen McGowan; “Aqui Y Ahora,” directed and written by Paz Leon; “Julia Blue,” directed and written by Roxy Toporowych; and “Being Impossible,” directed by Patricia Ortega.

Documentary feature films receiving the funds include “The Devil We Know,” directed, written, and produced by Stephanie Soechtig; “Blowin’ Up,” directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal; and “Tiny Souls,” directed by Dina Naser; “Blue ID,” directed and produced by Burcu Melekoglu and Vuslat Karan.

Short films selected include “The Egg and the Thieving Pie,” directed and produced by Lola-Blanche Higgins and “Futbolistas 4 Life,” directed by Jun Stinson.

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