Allen Hughes will direct Marvin Gaye biopic What’s Going On for Warner Bros. from a script by poet and playwright Marcus Gardley, with Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Andrew Lazar set to produce, per a report from Deadline. The big news is that a deal has been reached with both the singer’s estate and Motown to acquire the rights to all of Gaye‘s best-known tracks, which has been a major stumbling block for many previous attempts at getting the project off the ground.
Dr. Dre has been attached to the film for three years, since first outlining his intentions to develop an authorized retelling of the soul singer’s life in June 2018. A limited series starring Jamie Foxx and feature-length iterations with Lauren Goodman, F. Gary Gray, and Cameron Crowe at the helm were all in the works at various points over the last three decades, but Warner Bros. and Hughes are finally making it a reality, and the filmmaker was understandably enthusiastic about the opportunity.
“This is so personal for me. When I made my first film with my brother, we were fortunate to get “What’s Going On” into the trailer for Menace 2 Society, and it was a game changer in elevating the marketing of that film. Every film of mine but the period film From Hell had some Marvin Gaye in it, and I’ve just always connected to him. He’s the artist’s artist, with this ethereal voice that just comes out of the heavens. There have been plenty of great artists, and then Marvin, in his own lane. When you listen, in one measure you feel like you’ve read a novel. Such a rich inner life in that voice, heavenly but riddled with pain, the agony and ecstasy at the same time.
When he gained his independence in the ’70s, with that album What’s Going On, then Trouble Man and Let’s Get It On, I Want You and his final masterpiece Here, My Dear, when it comes to vocal orchestrations and the way he layered his voice, he’s Mozart. You’ve heard of all these big-name directors that have tried for 35 years to consolidate these rights. This started with Dre, saying, “Let’s do this together”, and then Jimmy came on, and Andrew Lazar, and we worked with the estate, with Motown and some other things that needed to be tied down, and we got it done.”
What’s Going On isn’t being designed to follow the standard biopic formula, but will instead look to create a musical and theatrical experience threaded together by the life of one of history’s all-time great singers and songwriters. There’s no shortage of incidents to mine for inspiration both positive and negative, that’s for sure. Coming from a poverty-stricken background and abusive childhood, Gaye became the first Black singer to sign a million-dollar record deal and found massive success as a global superstar. However, he also suffered from serious substance abuse issues that led to his adult life being plagued by paranoia and depression, including multiple suicide attempts, before he was ultimately shot and killed by his own father in April 1984 at the age of just 44.
The movie will reportedly be one of the costliest musical biopics ever made, and the single most expensive focusing on an African American artist, with the budget pegged at upwards of $80 million. The subject’s widow Jan Gaye is on board as an executive producer alongside Suzanne de Passe, while the Marvel Gaye estate and Motown will both be involved. The casting search is set to get underway imminently with an eye to production starting next year, and the lead role in What’s Going On possesses the potential to put whoever ends up winning it into the thick of the 2023 awards season conversation.
According to reports, What’s Going On will begin production next year with an intended 2023 release both in theaters and on HBO Max.