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Mahershala Ali to play boxing legend Jack Johnson for HBO

True Detective Season 3

Story by Jack Foley

OSCAR winner Mahershala Ali is to play boxing legend Jack Johnson in Unruly, a new six-part limited series for HBO.

The project hails from Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone and will be written by Dominique Morisseau. It is based the PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

Unruly is described as an unapologetically black, no-holds-barred telling of Jack Johnson (Ali), the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion.

The series will chart the champion’s rise to athletic greatness and the costs he paid for his skin and defiance, which created a blueprint for black resistance in every justice movement for generations to come.

Nicknamed the ‘Galveston Giant’, Jackson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915) at the height of the Jim Crow era, with his 1910 fight against James J. Jeffries frequently described as the ‘fight of the century’.

During his boxing career, Johnson fought 114 fights, winning 80 matches, 45 by knockouts. And in 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Jack Johnson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Ali has stated multiple times over the past couple of years that playing Johnson on screen is his ‘dream role’. He previously portrayed the athlete in one of his first professional acting jobs, in a stage production of The Great White Hope in 2000.

The project marks Ali, Amatus Karim Ali and Mimi Valdés’ second production at HBO where Ali has a first-look deal. Their first project was the documentary series We Have a Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest, directed by Amy Schatz.

Since winning an Oscar for Green Book and winning widespread acclaim [as well as an Emmy nomination] for his performance in HBO’s True Detective: Season 3, Ali has seldom been out of work.

He will soon star in the Marvel feature Blade and in the feature Swan Song, directed by Academy Award winner Benjamin Cleary for Apple TV+. He can also currently be seen in Season 2 of Ramy on Hulu.

Morisseau is the Tony-nominated book writer for the Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations. She was a co-producer on Shameless, has a pilot in development at FX, and wrote the film Step for Fox Searchlight.

She is also currently developing a new musical based on the Soul Train franchise.

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