EXCLUSIVE: Antoine Fuqua is set to direct Michael, a Lionsgate drama that will chronicle the complex life story of legendary singer Michael Jackson. A screenplay is by John Logan and the film is being produced by Graham King, who turned the story of Freddie Mercury Queen into the blockbuster Bohemian Rhapsody, which was nominated for Best Picture. GK Films will co-produce with Jackson’s estate co-executors John Branca and John McClain.
Turning Mercury’s complicated rise, fall, and triumphant comeback into a film that won Rami Malek for best actor might have been an easier task than the moonwalk over landmines that must be done with Jackson’s story. Anyone who’s seen the job Fuqua did in the Will Smith star Emancipation might think he’s hit high water mark as a filmmaker for unabashedly telling an often violent story of the escaped slave Joseph.
John Logan Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
This has long been a passionate project for King and Logan, who teamed up on the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese-directed The Aviator, starring Howard Hughes and his race to innovate before his mental illness and anti-germ obsessions overwhelmed him. Sources tell us that the film will undoubtedly leverage the best of Jackson’s musical accomplishments and recreate seminal career highlights, beginning with the days when he fronted The Jackson 5 as a child through his successful tenure as the musical’s biggest star world as an adult. But it will also deal squarely with the pedophile allegations that dogged his later years until his death in 2009 at the age of 50 from cardiac arrest induced by a cocktail of sedatives.
Things move fast on Michael. Fuqua is currently finalizing The Equalizer 3 with Denzel Washington in Italy and will then move on to this one. Production will begin later this year, and we’ve heard that Fuqua will be partnering his cinematographer for Emancipation and Equalizer 3, Robert Richardson.
Graham King Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage
The hope is that Michael will become a global juggernaut like Bohemian Rhapsody, which has grossed over $900 million worldwide and created a new appetite for Queen’s music. Lionsgate has worldwide rights here but will be looking for an offshore partner and we’ve heard Sony is right in the mix. This studio became a hit in 2009’s documentary This is It, which consisted of footage of Jackson rehearsing for a series of concerts in London around the time he died.
Jackson’s rise to the ranks of King of Pop was filled with unprecedented achievements, including being truly the first black singer to break regular video rotation on MTV; his introduction to the moonwalk during the performance of “Billie Jean” on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special in 1983; the incredible production values of the videos for “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and other songs; and setting all kinds of records for sales and awards.
Michael Jackson in 1975 Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
On the other side of the coin, Jackson grew up being bullied by his father Joe, the Jackson 5’s domineering manager, who pushed his kids hard when they came out of Gary, Indiana to become pop sensations as kids, anchored by Michaels golden voice. Michael Jackson improved his career as he grew up, but this was accompanied by odd behavior that included sleepovers by young male children at his Neverland ranch. Long dismissed as a sort of Peter Pan syndrome, this habit took on a more sinister connotation when some of the boys claimed they had been molested, with a litany of complaints. There was also the cosmetic surgery that changed his face dramatically. We’ve heard theories that Jackson’s motivation may have been a desire not to look like his father when looking in the mirror, but certainly part of that came after he was damaged when he was hit by a pyrotechnic during filming Set Fire to Malfunction of a 1984 Pepsi commercial that required reconstructive scalp surgery and was its introduction to painkillers.
Like the recent Whitney Houston film I Wanna Dance With Somebody and the Baz Luhrmann-directed Elvis (the latter borrowing from the singer’s co-dependent relationship with greedy, parasitic manager Colonel Tom Parker), the drama is adapted from the Balancing the sides come from Jackson’s life and please his fans, stand up and don’t come across as a whitewash. We’ve heard the film could begin later in his life, and then we look back at the upbringing that forged his incredible talent and work ethic, along with the damage Jackson did that ultimately made Jackson a tragic musician figure .
“Antoine is a sensitive and powerful filmmaker and we are very happy that he has chosen Michael as his next project. His visionary storytelling skills and dedication to his craft will make Michael a memorable film,” said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.
King said, “Antoine’s films offer personal perspectives of larger-than-life characters that continue to captivate global audiences. I am confident that Antoine will make an extraordinary and compelling film that both celebrates the life of the King of Pop and offers profound new insights into his life.”
Fuqua, who shot videos with the likes of Prince, Lil’ Wayne, Toni Braxton and Stevie Wonder early in his career before breaking through on Training Day, will sit back as he creates the King of Pop’s most iconic stage and performance moments.
Jackson appears on stage during the ‘Dangerous’ tour John Gunion/Redferns
“The first films of my career were music videos, and I still feel that the combination of film and music is a deep part of who I am,” Fuqua said. “For me there is no artist with the power, charisma and sheer musical genius of Michael Jackson. I was influenced to do music videos by looking at his work – the first black artist to play in heavy rotation on MTV. His music and these images are part of my worldview and the chance to tell his story alongside his music on screen was irresistible.”
Fuqua is represented by LBI Entertainment and Johnson Shapiro Slewett & Kole.