Double Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book) is heading back to the small screen, signing on to portray legendary boxer Jack Johnson in a six-part limited TV series entitled Unruly.
Beginning his career in the late 1890s, Johnson quickly rose through the ranks of the heavyweight division, becoming World Colored Heavyweight Champion – a title he would defend 17 times. However, he was repeatedly refused a shot at the World Heavyweight Champion, James J. Jeffries, who retired rather than facing him. Johnson then defeated Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia to become the fist ever African American to hold the World Heavyweight crown.
Given his career took place during the height of the Jim Crow era, Johnson was a hugely controversial figure – not least for his flashy lifestyle and numerous relationships with white women, one of which led to his arrest for violating the Mann Act (“transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes”) and prison sentence. Johnson was posthumously pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.
The limited series will be based upon Ken Burns’ excellent documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, with Burns and Ali serving as executive producers alongside Tom Hanks. Tony-nominated writer Dominique Morisseau is set to pen the scripts.