Ashley Judd and Neil Patrick Harris will star in “Anita,” a long-gestating biopic of Anita Bryant, the TV pitchwoman and singer who campaigned against local anti-discrimination ordinances in Florida, inadvertently igniting the gay rights movement.
Chad Hodge, creator of TNT series “Good Behavior,” will write and direct, and Howard Rosenman (“Call Me by Your Name”) and Darren Star (“Sex and the City”) produce. Mimi Steinbauer’s Radiant Films Intl. has boarded sales and is at Cannes with the project.
Bryant was a singer and spokesperson for orange juice and the Florida Citrus Commission. She fronted a campaign in the late 1970s called Save Our Children that advocated against rules prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, tanking her career in the process. While researching the history, Hodge spent significant time with Bryant in her Oklahoma home, and that element is recounted in the movie. Harris plays Hodge as he meets Bryant, who is played by Judd.
“As a gay man and a writer who likes to explore complex, messy characters, I’ve always thought about Anita Bryant,” Hodge said. “How could this celebrity who espoused Christian goodness and orange juice through song suddenly use those platforms to go on a nationwide anti-gay crusade and overturn gay rights laws? I wanted to find out who Anita was, who the people around her were, and what everybody wanted out of this.”
He added that the story has a contemporary resonance and “holds up a mirror, and a warning, to our current society.”
“Chad has one simple goal with this film — to tell the truth,” Steinbauer added. “Ashley and Neil are perfectly cast to explore this complicated, conflicted person and to give audiences the opportunity to see first-hand how Anita’s actions led to a movement that is still prevalent and necessary 42 years later.”
Principal photography starts in September. Tim Duffy will also produce. Michael W. Gray will exec produce.
There have been several efforts to get films and series about Bryant off the ground, including one from Hodge and Star for HBO. There is archive footage of Bryant in “Milk,” and she appeared in person in Michael Moore film “Roger and Me.” Lawrence Kasdan was reported to have a film about Bryant for Amazon Studios in the works in 2018.