Mahershala Ali is set to portray iconic bo-xer Jack Johnson, who was the first Bl-ack heavyweight champion, in Unruly, a six-part series sla-ted to air on HBO.The production starring the 46-year-old actor is based on Ken Burns’s 2004 documentary Unforgivable Bla-ckness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, and the corresponding Geoffrey C. Ward book.
HBO began developing in 2013 with Beau Willimon linked to the project, Variety reported.The double Oscar winner will play the talented athlete throughout his life, depi-cting his success in the ring, in sp-ite of the the racism and discr-imination he endu-red.
Unruly will present ‘an unapologetically Bla-ck, no-holds-ba-rred telling of Jack Johnson, the world’s first Bla-ck Hea-vyweight Bo-xing Champion,’ producers said in a statement Tuesday, according to The Wrap.
‘This bold explo-ration depicts the champion’s rise to athletic greatness and the costs he paid for his skin and defia-nce, which created a blueprint for Bla-ck resistance in every justice movement for generations to come.’
Ali, who’s won Academy Awards for his performances in Moonlight and Green Book, is an executive producer on the limited-run series, along with screenwriter Dominique Morisseau. Willimon, Bu-rns and Tom Hanks are also executive producers on the show. Ali has past played the bo-xer in a 2000 play titled The Great White Hope.
The Oakland native was previously on the network’s True Detective, which got him an Emmy nod in 2019; he’s also appeared on TV shows including House of Cards, Ramy and Luke Cage.Last year, in an interview with The Guardian, Ali opened up on the topic of rac-ial prej-udice and how it impa-cted how he dressed while living in New York City.
‘You’re walking on the street a lot, you’re on public transportation, you’re traveling late at night,’ he said.’And I remember I was always really conscious of how I dressed. Like, I wouldn’t wear clothes that allowed people to identify me with what I would think they would view as the typical Bla-ck man.’I wouldn’t wear tennis shoes. It was a consc-ious thing, because I found that women would cross the street, day or night. Or turn their ring over on the subway – turn the diamond inward! These were little things I would catch all the time.’
Ali added, ‘How people would react to a large, fairly muscular, dark-skinned Bla-ck man – I would be so consci-ous of it and it would upset me.’ The actor said the reactions would impact his ‘energy for the rest of the day’ so he went out of his way to do things to pre-empt that.”And so many Bl-ack people around the world do this. Because there’s an idea that we’re something to be fe-ared, or that we pose a da-nger.’
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