David Oyelowo portrays Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. He says his experience growing up in Nigeria, without experiencing being a minority, helped him approach the job of playing such an iconic figure with less baggage than an American actor might.
David Oyelowo portrays Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma.”

The Mark Gordon Company’s adaptation of author and historian Kevin Boyle’s 2005 book “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age” has booked David Oyelowo to star in the film, and José Padilha (“Narcos,” “Elite Squad”) to direct.

The National Book Award winner, which is based on a true story, details the investigation and courtroom drama of Ossian Sweet – a black man and doctor in Detroit, Michigan whose armed self-defense of his newly purchased home in a white neighborhood against a mob trying to force him out, led to the accidental death of one of the whites threatening his and his family’s lives and home. In the end, Sweet, his family and friends who helped in the defense of his home, were all acquitted by an all-white jury of murder charges, in what came to be known as the Sweet Trials.

And this all happened in 1925, with the KKK in ascendance.

The acquittal came thanks to one of America’s greatest attorneys, Clarence Darrow, who took on Sweet’s case and transformed him into a controversial symbol of equality. Darrow was a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union who defended Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks in (1924). Some of his other cases included defending the Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925), in which he opposed William Jennings Bryan (statesman, orator, and three-time presidential candidate).

In Kevin Boyle’s book, he re-creates the Sweet family’s journey from slavery through the Great Migration to the middle class, weaving the police investigation and courtroom drama of Sweet’s murder trial into the volatile America of the 1920s.

The Mark Gordon Company will finance the film adaptation of “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age” which Padilha will direct, with a script by Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes.

No other information is available at this time. It’ll be worth watching to see whose story is emphasized here – whether it’ll become more about Darrow’s skill as a top attorney, or the Sweet family’s journey from slavery to middle class American life and their subsequent struggles in spite of their achievements. Or maybe it’ll be dual tale, with both Sweet and Darrow as leads.

Oyelowo is a busy actor and producer. Among the many project’s on his upcoming slate, he stars in “The God Particle” (or the next film set in the “Cloverfield” universe) for Paramount, which Julius Onah is directing and J.J. Abrams producing. The movie is out this October.

Pick up a copy of the book here.

Henry Holt and Co.
Henry Holt and Co.