Mahershala Ali has been attached to star in an upcoming HBO limited series on boxer Jack Johnson.
Titled Unruly, the project is described as “an unapologetically Black, no-holds-barred telling of Johnson’s life. The first-ever Black heavyweight boxing champion, the show would follow Johnson’s rise to greatness and the costs he paid for his skin color and defiance.”
It is based on the Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson and the book by Geoffrey C. Ward. HBO originally had it in development in 2013 with Beau Willimon set to write.
Now, writer Dominique Morisseau, who recently wrote the book for Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations is attached to pen the script. Morisseau, Ali, Willimon and Tom Hanks are among the executive producers. Morisseau also has a pilot in the works at FX and is developing a Soul Train musical.
Ali has expressed interest in playing Johnson on the big or small-screen for years. One of his first acting jobs was portraying the boxer in a stage production in a stage production of The Great White Hope over two decades ago. Ali is under a first-look deal at HBO.