MGM Taps Kenya Barris as Writer and Director for Richard Pryor Biopic

Gavin Evans
·3 min read

According to Deadline, MGM is set to partner with black-ish creator Kenya Barris for a movie based on legendary comic Richard Pryor.

This comes after the studio reportedly won a contentious battle at auction over rights to make the film, with Deadline noting that this new acquisition comes after MGM had also already obtained the rights for a Sammy Davis Jr. biopic.

As a result of the acquisition, Barris will produce and write for the Pryor film, while also making his directorial debut. Notably, one of the other producers who will be credited is one of Pryor's ex-wives, Jennifer Lee.

Barris, Lee, and both the chairman and president for the MGM Film Group (Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy) all put out statements regarding Monday's announcement.

“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 said. “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.”

As for Lee, she said: "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.”

If you got room for one more statement, De Luca and Abdy added to both of those.

“The NY Times has said of Richard Pryor, he was an ‘iconoclastic standup comedian who transcended barriers of race and brought a biting, irreverent humor into America’s living rooms, movie houses, clubs and concert halls.’ We couldn’t agree more," they said. "Along with our partners Kenya, Tory, Jennifer and Adam [Rosenberg], we are incredibly excited to share Richard’s extraordinary life with audiences the world over.”

As for Pryor's legacy, the stand-up icon had been in nearly 50 films, on top of headlining a couple of short-lived TV shows, The Richard Pryor Show and Pryor's Place. He was a writer for Sanford and Son and a pair of Lily Tomlin specials (winning an Emmy for the latter). He gained his first screenwriting credit for Blazing Saddles, stacked two platinum albums, five golds, and also five Emmys for his recordings, and won the first ever Mark Twain Humor Prize back in 1998.

He died in December 2005 at the age of 65.

Monday's news represents the latest development in Hollywood's long-running quest to make a movie out of Pryor's life. The closest anyone's gotten, at least at the moment, was when The Weinstein Company and Jennifer Lee joined up with Lee Daniels on a script that was set to see Mike Epps play Pryor alongside a cast that included Oprah Winfrey (as Pryor's grandmother), Eddie Murphy (as Pryor's father) and Kate Hudson (as Jennifer).

Despite those casting announcements being made public, that film never got off the ground.

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