Searchlight Pictures has acquired the right to The Defender. The upcoming film currently has Sterling K. Brown attached to play Scipio Africanus Jones – an African American lawyer, judge, and philanthropist. The script was penned by E. Nicholas Mariani and currently has George Tillman Jr. attached as director. Tillman Jr. is best known for directing the Barbershop film series, The Hate U Give, Notorious, and Men Of Honor.
The period drama will focus on Jones’ involvement in the defense of the eighty-seven men accused of murder after the 1919 Elaine race riot and massacre in Arkansas, risking his life and career in the process. His involvement in the case has earned Jones historic acclaim.
Brown, who will be playing the lead, is best known for his roles in This is Us, Black Panther, Frozen II, and notable guest roles in Insecure, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Brown’s involvement is interestingly not the first time he has played a real-life lawyer; he previously took on the role of Christopher Darden in the miniseries, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story–a role he which landed him the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie in 2016.
The actor recently wrapped production on Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul opposite Regina Hall and Nicole Beharie. He will also produce The Defender under his Indian Meadows banner which was founded in 2018. He will be producing the film alongside Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen of 21 Laps, while Miriani will wear the additional hat of executive producer beside Danielle Reardon, Dantram Nguyen, and Katie Goodson-Thomas.
There is currently no release date on the books for The Defender but the film has been a long time coming, having been a 2018 Black List selection. The studio acquired the rights to the film after a competitive run, with Ben Wilkinson–Searchlight Pictures’ VP of business affairs and legal counsel–negotiating the deal on behalf of the studio, and WME and CAA representing the filmmakers. Richard Ruiz will oversee the project for Searchlight.