×

‘Amazing Grace’ Set to Anchor Fall Voter Drive, Get Expanded Spring Reissue (EXCLUSIVE)

The film's voter registration road show will feature appearances by Rev. William Barber II and Joy Reid. An "expanded edition" slated for theaters in the spring will include alternate footage and two extra songs.

The Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” will be going out on tour this fall and winter, as part of a 22-state road show that will offer free screenings of the film as a centerpiece of multi-day voter registration events being sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign, a historic civil rights organization that Franklin supported since it was founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

The tour is set to be officially announced Monday at a press conference prior to a showing of “Amazing Grace” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Among those participating in the D.C. kickoff event are “Grace” producer Alan Elliott, TV host Joy Reid, gospel singer Richard Smallwood, the current head of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. William J. Barber, and another civil rights activist, Rev. Liz Theoharris. All but Smallwood are expected to take part in the tour in coming months, with weekends already booked in cities like Greenville, North Carolina and Flint, Michigan.

In a separate development, Elliott tells Variety that an “expanded version” of “Amazing Grace” is being prepared for release in theaters next spring, with a plan to have it come out in conjunction with Franklin’s birthday in March. The original cut of the film was released on home video in August.

“Our guiding principle has always been, what would Aretha do?” says Elliott. “This is trying to do right by Aretha’s politics. Aretha went on tour with Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1968 to support the Poor People’s Campaign, of which this is an extension. Aretha was a big supporter of Rev. Barber and asked him to do a revival at her church. He took over the Poor People’s Campaign from Jesse Jackson — with his blessing — after (Jackson) had taken it over from Dr. King. Both of them spoke at her funeral, which was just a year ago,” the producer points out.

At the Kennedy Center screening Monday night, “Rev. Barber and myself will be talking about the movie and gospel music.” But at the press conference and subsequent events in cities around the country where “Amazing Grace” will screen, “the focus will be on the five interlocking injustices — systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism, and lastly, the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

If that agenda sounds like it skews toward one political party, Elliott says that “as a 501c, the Poor People’s Campaign is interdenominational. We’ve asked a lot of different Republicans to come be a part of this, also. We hope they’ll show up. When we went to go premiere the film in New York City last year, Lorne Michaels had me sit next to Dan Crenshaw’s family, so we’ve asked Crenshaw to be a part of the events. We’ll see what happens, but we’re about the policy, not the party.”

Part of the idea, Elliott says, is that anyone who registers to vote during these weekends gets a free ticket to the movie — with some being held in theaters and some in churches or meeting halls — although already-registered voters won’t be turned away.

The “big landing” of the tour, he says, will be June 20, 2020, when the Poor People’s Campaign has permits for a march on Washington.

Elliott says the idea was sparked after a conversation with Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah was a big fan of the movie and called and asked me what the agenda was. I said the agenda was the Poor People’s Campaign. She knew everything there was to know about ‘Amazing Grace’ — it was pretty startling — but she didn’t know about Rev. Barber at that level, beyond watching him on MSNBC. So I’ve made it my mission to make sure we were bringing him into show business, as it were, and to really reflect Aretha’s politics through this lens.”

As for the expanded version of “Amazing Grace,” the producer says, “We’re excited to be working with Neon on a longer version of the movie, with intermission, that we will hopefully premiere next year around her birthday, March 25.”

There wasn’t that much material on the original 1972 “Amazing Grace” album that didn’t have a correspondent number in the finally released 2018 concert movie, but, says Elliott: “It’s a much different film. It has different versions of songs from different nights [the film was shot over two nights in 1972], and it also has ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ [Franklin’s gospel interpretation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic] and ‘God Will Take Care of You’ as two extra songs.”

The intended spring reissue will also include a filmed preamble from Rev. Barber that Elliott had filmed for the documentary’s showing at the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Related Telluride Film Festival Turns Into Music Fest With 'Judy' and Full Slate [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. Related [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content