Film rights auctions can be a nasty, competitive bit of business. You know how it goes: You get too many puffed chests on the call, each one looking to open their wallet wide for the hottest item, and suddenly you’re locked in an all-out bidding war. This being the case, the crown eventually goes to someone and today it’s been announced that MGM is the victor of the upcoming Richard Pryor biopic.
In addition to landing the rights, we’ve also gotten word that Black-ish creator Kenya Barris will be making his directorial debut for the film, which he will also write. Barris will also produce via his Khalabo Ink Society banner, with Jennifer Lee Pryor producing for her Tarnished Angel studio alongside Tory Metzger for Levantine Films. Adam Rosenberg will executive produce.
As the story goes, Hollywood has been looking to adopt the life and times of comedian Richard Pryor into a film format for quite a while. The last honest-to-goodness attempt at bringing Pryor’s exploits to the big screen happened in 2016 when The Weinstein Company and Pryor’s widow Jennifer partnered with director Lee Daniels for a biopic based on a script by Bill Condon and Danny Strong. Mike Epps (THE HANGOVER, NEXT FRIDAY) would have starred as Pryor for that project, with Oprah Winfrey playing Pryor’s grandmother, who ran the brothel where the comedian was raised. Other notable names that were set to star include Eddie Murphy as Pryor’s father, Leroy “Buck Carter” Pryor, and Kate Hudson as Pryor’s widow, Jennifer. For better or worse, the film never ended up rolling into production.
“The way Pryor did what he did — with truth and specificity that was somehow self-aware and self-deprecating, and said with an unmatched level of vulnerability – that was the power and impact of his work,” said Barris in a statement. “Pryor had a voice that was distinctly his and, in many ways, comedy since then has been derivative of what he created. To me, this is a film about that voice, the journey that shaped it, and what it took for it to come to be.”
“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,” said Jennifer Lee Pryor about the biopic finally getting the attention it deserves.
As someone who grew up in a house where Pryor’s talents were celebrated by my parents, I was lucky enough to experience much of the icon’s comedy routines and films at a very young age. From what I can recall, Pryor’s act relied on brutal honesty, unflinching jokes aimed at regressive societal norms, and heartfelt stories that resonated with his fans. Though he’d starred in several films ranging from SUPERMAN II to SILVER STREAK, BUSTIN’ LOOSE, THE TOY, and STIR CRAZY, it’s SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL that remains my personal favorite.
Are you looking forward to Kenya Barris making his directorial debut for MGM’s Richard Pryor biopic? Which of Pryor’s films is your favorite? Who do you think will inevitably play Pryor’s offtimes screen partner, Gene Wilder, in the upcoming film? Let us know in the comments section below.