Lee Daniels
Lee Daniels

Our last update on this was to announce that Tracy Morgan was in negotiations to play Redd Foxx in the film – a Richard Pryor biopic that, prior to today’s news, was set to be directed by Lee Daniels.

“Mr. Foxx, I hope I do you justice!” said Morgan in a statement to The Wrap, who first reported on his casting. “It will be an honor to portray an icon.”

Morgan was to join a growing cast that included Taraji P. Henson playing Richard Pryor’s mother; Eddie Murphy as Pryor’s father; Oprah Winfrey as Pryor’s grandmother; Kate Hudson as Jennifer Lee Pryor, Richard Pryor’s 4th wife; and, of course, Mike Epps in the starring role, as Richard Pryor.

Production was set to begin this year – in March specifically – as soon as Daniels wrapped up the ongoing second season of his hit Fox series “Empire.”

That’s obviously didn’t happen, and will definitely not be happening any time in the future, as Daniels has left the project. Reasons given have nothing to do with any creative differences; Daniels is a busy man these days, with a second musical series – “Star” – greenlit by Fox. So with “Empire” and now “Star” on his plate, with active involvement in each, he has little time for much else. And a Richard Pryor biopic isn’t something to take lightly, and make “on the side.” It requires the full participation and commitment of the filmmaker.

The Weinstein Company, who are backing the film, are now on the hunt for a director to replace Daniels. No word yet on what their short list looks like. Or whether they are looking specifically for a black director for the job.

The project has been in development for quite some time. Before Daniels came on board in 2014, 2 years ago, the news was that the project had changed hands yet again, as Forest Whitaker took over as producer (this came shortly after the huge success of “Fruitvale Station” at the Sundance Film Festival the year before – a film he produced). It was also the same time that The Weinstein Company (TWC), who produced and distributed Daniels’ previous film, the blockbuster drama “The Butler,” came on board to back the project as well. Before that, Marlon Wayans was attached to star, and Chris Rock was to produce alongside Adam Sandler. When Daniels and TWC took over, Wayans was apparently still in the mix, although it was reported that Michael B. Jordan and Eddie Murphy were both on the short list as well.

The project was being made with input from Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor; so, I suppose we could say that this won’t be one of those troubled biopics made without the approval/blessing of the subject’s family. Although, if there’s suddenly some objection from someone we don’t know of yet, I won’t be surprised, given recent biopic project hold-ups.

So I wouldn’t expect the completed film until some time in 2017 and beyond; unless TWC locks in a new director ASAP, and fast-tracks the project for a late 2016 release during awards season. Although I think that’s all very unlikely.

The previously announced cast is said to still be attached to the project. It’s just a matter of signing up a new director.

I should note that Mike Epps actually plays Richard Pryor in Cynthia Mort’s Nina Simone film that Zoe Saldana stars in, which is currently out, if you want to see an early sample of his take on Richard Pryor.