Yesterday in history, April 2, 1939, was Marvin Gaye was born. There was much celebration of his birthday across the Internet, which continues today, as fans of the music legend remember the man and his music, and pay their respects.
Gaye would’ve been been 78 years young were he still alive today; he died on April 1, a day before his 45th birthday, after he was fatally shot by his father, Marvin Gay, Sr. during an altercation, after he intervened in an argument between his parents.
The Marvin Gaye story is one that many have attempted to bring to the screen, so far unsuccessfully for a number of reasons; a lack of finances, rights or approval from the Gaye estate have been common hurdles most haven’t been able to get over entirely. So we continue to wait for a film or TV project on the phenomenal life and career of Marvin Gaye; although, at the moment, we know of 2 projects announced in the last year that are still very much alive and could eventually become realities.
In 2015, director F. Gary Gray teased, while talking to TMZ, that, while he was not exactly looking forward to making another biopic (after “Straight Outta Compton” that year), one that would make him change his mind is if he were asked to make a film on the life of Marvin Gaye.
“All the things he talked about in his albums and what is going on is relevant now,” Gray said, calling Marvin Gaye his favorite artist. “He was ahead of his time. His story is somewhat Shakespearean.”
About 3 months after that interview, an exclusive on Roger Friedman’s Showbiz 411 blog said that Gray had made a deal with producer Suzanne dePasse and Motown founder Berry Gordy to bring Marvin Gaye’s life to the big screen, adding that Gaye’s family was involved as well.
Friedman’s report was short, without much in terms of details. None of the other mainstream industry media sites reported on this, but we’ve published past exclusives from Friedman’s blog, and just about every single one of them eventually turned out to be true. So I didn’t have any reasons to believe this one was not.
In addition, I also dug into the S&A archives for any connection between Gray and Gaye in the past, and found a 2009 post in which we reported that F. Gary Gray was indeed attached to direct a Marvin Gaye biopic, with C. Gaby Mitchell (“Blood Diamond”) on-board to write the script. No studio was attached at the time, with producers of the project shopping to studios and financiers, a package that included complete music rights to Marvin Gaye’s catalog, with plans to have the star of the film lip sync to Gaye’s recordings. No actor was attached.
Gray, who had long wanted to tell Gaye’s story (and apparently still very much does), faced music rights problems. “This is my passion project, the one that I wake up every day thinking about,” Gray told Variety in 2008, adding, “I’m going to tell a truthful story, and there is no shortage of drama and extreme conflict in a relationship with his father that at its core is Shakespearean and tragic. This isn’t the average biopic of a rock star wrestling with drugs and women, but a man whose musical awakening became a call to action that questioned critical issues like a costly foreign war, recession, environment, inequality – issues that are relevant now.”
The music rights were eventually secured for the project, but a film was never made, very likely because no studio would finance it.
It was also around this time that a rival Marvin Gaye film titled “Sexual Healing,” that was to be produced by the late James Gandolfini, and was to star Jesse L. Martin, was in development. That project, which was to focus on the singer’s “declining” years (unlike Gray’s film, which would cover Gaye’s entire life), didn’t have rights to Gaye’s full music library. That film would also face challenges, and many years later, still isn’t complete, despite actually beginning filming 3+ years ago.
To start, Marvin Gaye’s children, Nona Gaye, Frankie Gaye, and Marvin Gaye III, all opposed the making of this film. Berry Gordy and Janis Gaye, Marvin’s ex-wife, also opposed it.
In mid-2013, it was announced that filming on “Sexual Healing” had been suspended. Julien Temple was directing, with S. Epatha Merkerson (as Marvin’s Gaye’s mother, Alberta Cooper Gay), and Dwight Henry (as Marvin Gaye’s father, Marvin Gay, Sr.) joining Jesse L. Martin in front of the camera. David Harewood, Clarke Peters and Brendan Gleeson were also part of the cast.
It was reported that there was a possibility that the film might not see completion (at least, not immediately after that revelation), because Focus Features International, the company that picked up the project initially, and shopped it at the Cannes Film Festival that year, had pulled out.
Reasons for Focus’ exit weren’t given unfortunately (unless we just missed that announcement); although, at the time, I thought that it might have something to do with what follows below.
Crew members were said to have not been paid fully for their work on the film, with one of the film’s producers, Jimmy De Brabant, telling ScreenDaily that there was apparently a cash flow problem with the American investor backing the film; although he added that the funding that was promised by this investor had not yet arrived, but emphasized patience with the film’s cast and crew, suggesting that the money was indeed coming.
At the time, it was said that about 70% of the film had been shot.
Although I’m still really curious to hear Focus Features’ reasons for dropping out. There might be more to this than is public currently.
It’s still not clear where the project stands – whether the financing eventually did come, or if production is still in Limbo, or dead.
Also, no word on where F. Gary Gray’s Marvin Gaye biopic stands.
Skip ahead to early in 2015, when it was announced that a feature-length documentary on Marvin Gaye was in the works. Noah Media Group and Greenlight were developing the film that was to be titled “Marvin, What’s Going On?” which would center on the making of Gaye’s seminal 1971 album of the same name.
It’s also a project that had (and maybe still has) the full support of Gaye’s children and former wife, who were also to contribute to the film, which was being called “the defining portrait of this visionary artist and his impeccable album.”
Production was scheduled to being last year (2016) with Gabriel Clarke and Torquil Jones co-directing, and their Noah Media Group partners, John McKenna and Victoria Barrell, producing. The film promised to include exclusive interviews with Motown stars and never-before-seen archive footage courtesy of Gaye’s children and former wife.
Gaye’s children said in a joint statement at the time: “We would like to express our excitement about the upcoming documentary feature film about our father and the creation of his amazing ‘What’s Going On’ album. We are proud that his relevance remains intact and we look forward to being a part of this cinematic journey. Our father was complex, but we are confident that with Noah Media Group’s attention to detail and their dedication to the truth, the positive, inspirational and aspirational aspects of his life will be handled and shared with the world in a way never seen before. We look forward to participating and sharing what we can through friends, family, photos, footage and priceless stories that only those who knew our father up close and personal would know, as well as his contemporaries, purists and fans who have studied him and his art over decades. ’What’s Going On?’ … something many of us find ourselves asking today, 45 years later. Peace.”
The film was set to be released this year, but since the initial announcement, we’ve heard/read nothing about its progress. It will might premiere later this year.
Finally, in late 2016, Jamie Foxx announced that he was also tackling Marvin Gaye’s life story, executive producing what will be a limited series, with Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones of de Passe Jones Entertainment. Recall earlier in this same post I mentioned that F. Gary Gray had made a deal with producer Suzanne dePasse and Motown founder Berry Gordy to bring Marvin Gaye’s life to the big screen, adding that Gaye’s family was involved as well.
I can only assume it’s the same project that Gaye was initially attached to, although it’ll apparently now be a TV miniseries instead of a feature film.
“I’ve been a huge fan my whole life. His brilliance in music unparalleled,” said Jamie Foxx. “Marvin Gaye’s story has always fascinated me.”
“We’ve been involved in a number of attempts to get this done, and now that we’ve been able to marshal all the forces, and Jamie’s come on board as a partner, we’re excited to get going,” said de Passe.
“This has been a labor of love for three decades,” said Jones. “It’s been brewing for a while.”
Indeed it most certainly has. As I said at the top of this post, attempts have been made over the years to bring Gaye’s life to the screen, but, thus far, they’ve all be unsuccessful. Maybe one or both of the 2 projects announced in the last year – the documentary feature and the TV miniseries – will eventually cross the finish line; especially as they both have the approval and involvement of the Gaye family.
As of last November, the project was being shopped to networks, although no announcements of a pick-up at this time.
About 4 years ago, I shared a promo reel featuring footage from the Jesse L. Martin Marvin Gaye film, and it was eventually pulled and disappeared from the web. But it’s back online again, so check it out below if you missed it the last time it was online. The film was to be set in the early 1980s, focusing on the making of the “Midnight Love” album, while Gaye was living in Belgium – a drug addict, considered something of a has-been. It’s very likely a dead project at this point.
Watch a sample of what could’ve been: