When it comes to contemporary American auteurs, there are few who have as wild and incendiary a career as Tony Kaye. Known for iconic music videos from artists like Johnny Cash, Roger Waters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kaye broke through in a major way with 1998’s American History X, a provocative film about a reformed neo-Nazi played by Edward Norton. However, Kaye quite infamously clashed with New Line Cinema and Norton about the final cut of the film, punching walls and putting out virulent trade ads to prove his point. Kaye disowned the final cut we all saw, and has since worked only sporadically on films. Now, as Deadline reports, he’ll back in the director’s chair, working with material once again tied to America’s battles with racial justice.
Civil, written by Austin Wright and Adam Knox, is set in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, a monumental time and place for the American civil rights movement. The film will follow two men with opposing points of view learning more about themselves and equality, while tragedies rage around them. Kaye will direct the screenplay — his first narrative feature film since 2011’s Detachment — alongside producers Wright, Knox, Tina Treadwell (Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale), Dru Davis (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Kim Coleman (BlacKkKlansman), and Joshua Uduma (The Swing of Things). While no cast members have been announced, the plan is to start shooting early next year.
Though it’s hard to know with such a short synopsis, this film feels like it could be a “reset” for Kaye. Rather than the purposefully provocative politics baked into the central premise of American History X (“come watch and empathize with this modern day hate-filled monster!”), Civil sounds more in line with other period explorations of the American civil rights movement, with a promise for a clear lesson learned by the end. Will Kaye complicate this vision, or get into more arguments with his team? Or does Civil inherently contain more muckraking complications than it would seem? Time shall tell.