Kenya Barris, the creator of ABC's Black-ish and Netflix's BlackAF, will make his directorial debut with a biopic about legendary comedian Richard Pryor. The project landed at MGM after a competitive rights auction in Hollywood. The news came just a few days after the studio nabbed the rights for a biopic on another entertainment legend, Sammy Davis Jr.
Barris was signed to write, produce and direct the untitled Pryor movie, reports Variety. He will produce under his Khalabo Ink Society banner, with Pryor's widow Jennifer Lee Pryor and Tory Metzger. The executive producers are Renee Witt of Levantine Films and Adam Rosenberg. "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," Jennifer Lee said in a statement. "Richard and Kenya are creative brothers."
"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," Barris added. "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."
It's not clear what the parameters of the movie will be, or how it could possibly drill down Pryor's incredible life and body of work into a single narrative film. Pryor is considered one of the greatest American stand-up comedians of all time and was the first-ever recipient of the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He won a Primetime Emmy in 1974 and the Grammy for Best Comedy Recording five times. He also shared the 1975 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy script for co-writing Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Pryor starred in almost 50 movies. He died in December 2005 at age 65 after suffering his third heart attack.
Barris is best known for creating Black-ish and co-creating its two spin-offs, the Freeform series Grown-ish and the ABC prequel Mixed-ish. He now has a deal with Netflix, where BlackAF debuted earlier this year. On the movie side, he co-wrote Girls Trip and the 2019 Shaft remake. He also worked on the script for Eddie Murphy's Coming 2 America, which will be released on Amazon Prime on Dec. 18.