Weekly Ketchup

Will Smith to Star in Slavery-Era Thriller Emancipation, and More Movie News

The Oscars get postponed, Arthur Ashe gets a biopic, an Animorphs movie is coming, and new films for Oscar Isaac, Kristen Stewart, Tessa Thompson, and Edgar Wright.

by | June 18, 2020 | Comments

This Week’s Ketchup brings you more headlines from the world of film development news, covering such titles as Animorphs, Attack the Block 2, and new roles for Oscar Isaac, Will Smith, and Kristen Stewart.



Will Smith
(Photo by Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection)

In 1863, the still experimental new science of photography gave the world one of its earliest and most shocking demonstrations of the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” when an escaped slave named Peter was photographed to reveal his back scarred by countless whip lashes. And now, Peter’s story will be told on the big screen, thanks to Will Smith — who turned down the opportunity to star in Quentin Tarantino’s slavery-era revenge flick Django Unchained — and director Antoine Fuqua, who normally works in the action-thriller genre with movies like Training DayOlympus Has Fallen, and The Equalizer. Smith will produce and star in the film, called Emancipation, which will be a biographical thriller about the life of the slave named Peter as depicted in that early photograph. Smith and Fuqua expect to start production of Emanciation in early 2021, after Fuqua finishes filming the drama Infinite and after Will Smith wraps filming of King Richard, about the life of Richard Williams, the father of future tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams. The announcement of Emancipation is timely this week as the Juneteenth holiday has its origins in the commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June 19th, 1865.

Other Top Headlines


Oscar statuettes
(Photo by Getty Images)

As this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has continued to delay the releases of dozens of films, there has been a steady number of articles wondering online how this year’s shortened release calendar will impact the Academy Awards. The issue at hand was not only that there will be fewer films released in 2020, but also that the later months will be crowded with films originally scheduled for earlier in the year (i.e. when will the “awards season” movies be released?). This week, the mystery was (at least partially) addressed, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has indeed delayed the 93rd Academy Awards until April 25, 2021 (pushed back two months from Febraury 28, 2021). As part of this delay, the window for eligibility will also be extended all the way to February 28, 2021. This delay potentially will have a particularly strong impact on the Sundance Film Festival, which is annually held in January after the end of awards season, as this new delay means Sundance will now be held a month before the deadline instead of after. (The Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals have already announced that the change will not impact their scheduling.) In (very) related news, the BAFTAs have also delayed their next ceremony until April 11, 2021, just two weeks before the new Academy Awards date.


Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver
(Photo by Wilson Webb/©TriStar)

For fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the still mysterious “What If…?” scenarios (not to be confused with the upcoming animated Disney+ series What If…?) involves the version of the first Ant-Man movie that would have been directed by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), who eventually dropped out of the production. Well, this week’s news isn’t exactly that, but we did get confirmation of a movie called The Chain that will effectively align Wright with a screenwriter, Jane Goldman, who actually has worked on some Marvel movies (X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past), as well as the non-Marvel comic book adaptation Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Goldman and Wright will deliver the adaptation of Adrian McKinty’s 2019 novel The Chain for Universal Pictures, who picked up the project after it had previously been eyed by Paramount Pictures last summer. The Chain tells the story of a mother of a kidnapped 11-year-old daughter who discovers that the only way to get her own child back is to kidnap somebody’s else child (hence, The Chain). Wright’s next film before The Chain will be Last Night in Soho, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Jojo Rabbit star Thomasin McKenzie, which is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 after its 2020 release was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


John Boyega in Attack the Block
(Photo by Liam Daniel/©Screen Gems courtesy Everett Collection)

During a recent protest event, Star Wars star John Boyega wondered aloud, “I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this,” but several directors and studios were quick to respond online, saying that they would indeed be eager to work with Boyega on future projects. One of those filmmakers appears to have been Joe Cornish (The Kid Who Would Be King), who not only — like Wright above — worked on Marvel’s Ant-Man, but also gave John Boyega one of his earliest leading roles in the 2011 science fiction film Attack the Block (Certified Fresh at 90%). Speaking recently on the Script Apart podcast, Cornish revealed that he has met with Boyega to discuss ideas for an Attack the Block sequel, although he didn’t reveal what it might be about (except that the setting would have to acknowledge the 10+ years since the events of the first movie). Cornish is currently also developing a TV movie adaptation of the cyberpunk novel Snow Crash for HBO Max, and Boyega’s upcoming films include Naked Singularity and Rebel Ridge.


Oscar Isaac in Triple Frontier
(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix)

Speaking of John Boyega, one of his Star Wars co-stars has, like Boyega, had to dedicate much of the last several years to the Star Wars franchise, but that’s all over now, so he’s back to beefing up his other credits. That co-star is Oscar Isaac, and in addition to co-starring in Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated upcoming adaptation of Dune (12/28/2020) (which will soon resume filming for reshoots), Isaac will also continue filming his lead role in Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter in Mississippi in early July. On top of that, Isaac also joined two other new projects this week, one of which is Armegeddon Time for director James Gray (Ad Astra, Certified Fresh at 84%), an ensemble drama set at a prestigious private school in the 1980s in which his co-stars will be Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Donald Sutherland, and Cate Blanchett. Isaac’s other new project is a thriller called London based on a short story by Norwegian author Jo Jo Nesbø and directed by Ben Stiller, which is quite a departure for him. The premise London is being kept under wraps, but it’s adapted by Eric Roth, whose previous films include Forrest Gump, Ali, Munich, the 2018 version of A Star is Born, and soon, the aforementioned remake of Dune.


Kristen Stewart
(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

In Season 3 of Netflix’s The Crown, the cast changed to introduce Olivia Colman as the older Queen Elizabeth and Ben Daniels (Emma.) as a young Prince Charles. Although the new additions also included Emerald Fennell as Camilla Shand, the future Duchess of Cornwall, fans of the show will have to wait until Season 4 to see Emma Corrin join the series as Princess Diana (though you can see some set photos of her in costume here). The Crown will soon have competition, though, in the form of a new feature film about the life of Princess Diana, as Kristen Stewart is now attached to star in the film called Spencer (after Princess Di’s maiden family name). Spencer will be directed by Pablo Larrain, who is probably best known for directing a biographical film about another influential female political figure, Jackie (Certified Fresh at 87%), which starred Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in the period immediately after JFK’s assassination. Similarly, Spencer will not be a biopic about Princess Diana’s entire life, but will instead focus on three of the final days of her troubled marriage to Prince Charles. This is not the first time Kristen Stewart has starred in a biopic, as she also played the young Joan Jett in 2010’s The Runaways (Fresh at 70%) and actress-turned-activist Jean Seberg in last year’s Seberg (Rotten at 34%).


Arthur Ashe in 1969
(Photo by Harry Dempster/Getty Images)

Decades before Venus and Serena Williams ever picked up a tennis racket, Arthur Ashe made sports history as the first African American man to win a singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open, among other accomplishments. Following a heart bypass surgery in the 1980s, Ashe was diagnosed with AIDS, which led to his founding two different health organizations before his death in 1993. A biopic about the life of Arthur Ashe is now in development, to be produced by Hyde Park Entertainment (Blue Valentine, Machete) and Warner Music Group. The film will be adapted by screenwriter Kevin Willmott, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award for co-writing 2018’s BlackKklansman (Certified Fresh at 96%), and who also wrote 2015’s Chi-Raq (Certified Fresh at 82%) and the recent Netflix film Da 5 Bloods (Certified Fresh at 92%), all of which were directed by Spike Lee. Arthur Ashe is survived by his wife, photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and their daughter Camera, named after her mother’s profession. Warner Music Group is expected to help secure music for the Arthur Ashe biopic from “the extraordinary works of the era by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, and others.”


Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok
(Photo by Marvel Studios)

In the sport of fencing, a “balestra” is a leap forward usually followed by an aggressive “lunge” attack. Balestra also happens to be a pretty cool-sounding title for a movie, specifically one starring Tessa Thompson, whose profile has risen in recent years thanks to roles in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, HBO’s Westworld, and Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, among other things. Thompson is now executive producing and will star in a psychological thriller called Balestra, playing a “disgraced competitive fencer” hoping for an Olympic comeback who receives a new device designed to help her train while she’s lucid dreaming, until she “gets caught in her own web of subconscious desires and unfulfilling reality.” Balestra will be an independent production directed by Nicole Dorsey (Black Conflux) and will co-star Marwan Kenzari, A.K.A. “Sexy Jafar” from Disney’s recent live-action remake of Aladdin.


Pete Davidson and Colin Jost on Saturday Night Live
(Photo by NBC/Getty Images)

Staten Island may be the smallest borough of New York City (by population), but it’s also currently the hometown of two current Saturday Night Live cast members, namely Colin Jost and Pete Davidson. Davidson also recently starred in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island (Fresh at 70%), which had its streaming debut last Friday (6/12/2020). Soon, though, Jost and Davidson will have something else in common, as they are now both signed to star in the Universal Pictures comedy Worst Man. As the title suggests, Worst Man will be a wedding-themed comedy about “the family dramatics that ensue just weeks before the wedding,” but it’s currently unclear what roles Jost and Davidson will play — presumably one of them will be the groom, and the other will be the best (worst?) man, and you get no points for guessing which of them is most likely to play which role. Colin Jost’s next movie will be the live-action/CGI hybrid comedy Tom and Jerry (3/5/2021), and Pete Davidson will have a supporting role in next year’s soft reboot of The Suicide Squad (8/6/2021).


Elijah Wood in Maniac
(Photo by Daniel C. McFadden/©IFC Midnight courtesy Everett Collection)

In 2012, Lord of the Rings franchise star Elijah Wood played against type by starring as a serial killer in the Maniac remake (Rotten at 53%). For his next film, Wood is stepping around to the other side of the interrogation table, quite literally, as he will star as serial killer Ted Bundy’s FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier in the crime thriller No Man of God, based on the real life transcripts of their conversations from 1984 to 1989. (The real life Bill Hagmaier was also featured in episode 4 of Netflix’s 2019 mini-series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes). Indie filmmaker Amber Sealey (How to Cheat, No Light and No Land Anywhere) will direct No Man of God from a screenplay by screenwriter C. Robert Cargill (co-writer of Sinister, Sinister 2, and Doctor Strange).


Poster from Animorphs
(Photo by Nickelodeon courtesy Everett Collection)

Starting in June of 1996, Scholastic started publishing a series of over fifty children’s science fiction novels known as the Animorphs series. Hollywood’s penchant for capitalizing on the nostalgia of decades 20 to 30 years in the past means the 1990s are currently super en vogue. That’s pretty much all you need to know not to be surprised by this week’s news that development has started on an Animorphs movie. As in the books, Animorphs will tell the story of a group of five teenagers with the ability to transform into various animals who then have to use their super powers to prevent a secret alien invasion of Earth. Scholastic Publishing has, to date, published over 35 million copies of Animorphs books, and there was also a Canadian Animorphs TV series in the late 1990s. The Animorphs movie is being developed by producer Erik Feig, whose credits include the Step Up dance franchise, the Wrong Turn horror franchise, and the spy movies Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Spy Who Dumped Me.

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