Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has signed on to write, direct and produce a Richard Pryor biopic for MGM, which won a heated auction for the rights to the legendary comedian’s life story.
Barris will produce via his Khalabo Ink Society alongside the comedian’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, who will produce under her Tarnished Angel banner. Tory Metzger will also produce for Levantine Films, while Adam Rosenberg will serve as an executive producer.
Pryor is considered one of the greatest comics who ever lived as well as a masterful storyteller whose raw, honest and deeply personal approach to comedy transformed the entire art form and influenced generations of artists to come. In addition to starring in nearly 50 movies and co-writing Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks, Pryor won five Grammy Awards, and was the first-ever recipient of the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
“Having had a front row seat to much of Richard’s life, I am excited that the mystery of his genius is finally going to be explored, and Kenya Barris is the perfect person to do it. Richard and Kenya are creative brothers,” added Jennifer Lee Pryor.
“The NY Times has said of Richard Pryor, he was an ‘iconoclastic standup comedian who transcended barriers of race and brought a biting, irreverent humor into America’s living rooms, movie houses, clubs and concert halls.’ We couldn’t agree more,” MGM’s Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy said in a joint statement.
Pryor told his own story on the big screen once before in the 1986 film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, which followed a popular comedian who has severely burned himself while freebasing cocaine. It was the only narrative feature film that Pryor ever director. Meanwhile, a proper biopic was nearly made in 2016, when director Lee Daniels was prepping a movie that would’ve starred Mike Epps as the legendary comedian. Eddie Murphy was going to play Pryor’s father and Oprah Winfrey would’ve played Pryor’s grandmother, while Kate Hudson was poised to play Jennifer. Bill Condon and Danny Strong wrote the script for the Weinstein Company, but unfortunately, that project never got off the ground.
Barris is the creator of Black-ish, Mixed-ish and Grown-ish as well as the recent Netflix series #BlackAF, and he strikes me as a much better fit than Daniels to tell Pryor’s story — though we’ll see if he can assemble a similarly high-level cast. As a screenwriter, Barris’ credits include Girls Trip, Shaft, The Witches and Murphy’s upcoming comedy Coming 2 America.