Waaaay back in 2008, before S&A was born, some of you might remember the announcement (I posted it on my old personal blog, The Obenson Report) that Halle Berry had signed up to star in a project called Who Is Doris Payne, a Eunetta Boone-scripted, fact-based film about the international jewel thief, whose career spanned 6 decades, and who, by the way, happens to be black and a woman!

At the time, I noted how Payne’s real life story could make for a potentially riveting film, and a plump role for Halle, in the hands of the right director.

For those unfamiliar with Doris Payne… in short, she began her “career” as an international diamond thief in her late teens – this was in the 1940s. 

Her reasons? Partly to please and take care of her mother.

When I first heard about her story, I was reminded of a 2001 film called Lift, which starred Kerry Washington in a very similar role – an intelligent, young, African American woman who shoplifts from upscale, high-end department stores, mostly to please her very critical mother.

Doris Payne was caught, and has been serving time in prison – successive sentences in different states where she committed theft, which will likely continue until her death. 

As recently as 2005, at 75 years old, she served a 2-year sentence in a Nevada jail, on charges that she stole a diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus store in Palo Alto, California, and sold it in Las Vegas.

Following her term in Nevada, she was transferred to a prison in Denver, Colorado to serve a 4-year sentence for a similar crime elsewhere, and so on.

From what I learned about Payne, she seems to relish this questionable, yet likely thrilling life she has led as a jewel thief for almost her entire life. Certainly, she has some regrets; but, at over 80 years old today, she’s seen the world, stealing from jewelers in places like Paris, Monte Carlo, Japan and more, and lived the kind of life many of us can only dream of, given how prolific a thief she was, stealing countless diamonds, costing tens-of-thousands of dollars each, and selling them for tidy sums.

What’s even more fascinating about all this is that, she was able to do this for decades, as a black woman, beginning in a time in our history when black people were already under intense, conspicuous “surveillance” and scrutiny.

Reading between the lines of some of Doris Payne’s statements, she will likely do it all again, if she could!

So what happened to the Halle Berry project? It probably died. At the time of the announcement, there was no word on when it would go into production, nor who its director would be.

It’s still listed on IMDB, but only under writer Eunetta Boone’s page, with status unknown. 

I doubt it’ll ever happen; and if it does, it likely won’t be with Halle Berry anymore. 

But I plan to try and get in touch with Boone to see what she can tell us.

In the meantime however, you should be aware of this upcoming new documentary on Doris Payne’s life, titled The Life And Crimes Of Doris Payne, directed by Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina

Here’s their summary of the feature:

A glamorous 81-year-old, Doris Payne is as unapologetic today about the $2 million in jewels she’s stolen over a 60-year career as she was the day she stole her first carat. With Doris now on trial for the theft of a department store diamond ring, we probe beneath her consummate smile to uncover the secrets of her trade and what drove her to a life of crime. Stylized recreations, an extensive archive and candid interviews reveal how Payne managed to jet-set her way into any Cartier or Tiffany’s from Monte Carlo to Japan and walk out with small fortunes. This sensational portrait exposes a rebel who defies society’s prejudices and pinches her own version of the American Dream while she steals your heart.

Not that I condone stealing, but I think this is an absolutely riveting story, far more interesting than some of the fiction that makes it to theaters these days; and while I’m certainly interested in seeing the documentary, I’d really love to watch a scripted narrative film, with the right talent and budget, on Payne as well. 

In addition to Lift (the Kerry Washington drama), the story also reminds me of Chameleon Street another film about a real life African American con.

The documentary from Pond and Kirk will make its world premiere at the Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto next month, and will likely travel south. We’ll be watching for it.

Check out its trailer below: