“12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen will collaborate with Tupac Shakur‘s estate for an upcoming feature-length documentary. Deadline reported yesterday (May 9) that the Oscar-winning British filmmaker will direct the project through a new deal between the estate and Amaru Entertainment, the company founded by the rapper’s late mother Afeni Shakur.
Tupac’s aunt, Gloria Cox, will executive produce with Jeanne Elfant Festa of White Horse Pictures, the production company responsible for several music documentaries, including “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week–The Touring Years.” White Horse’s Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall also feature as producers alongside Jayson Jackson (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”) and estate trustee Tom Whalley. Deadline did not report a release date.
“I am extremely moved and excited to be exploring the life and times of this legendary artist,” McQueen told Deadline. “I attended [New York University] film school in 1993 and can remember the unfolding hip-hop world and mine overlapping with Tupac’s through a mutual friend in a small way. Few, if any, shined brighter than Tupac Shakur. I look forward to working closely with his family to tell the unvarnished story of this talented man.”
The still-untitled project comes nearly 14 years after Amaru Entertainment released “Tupac: Resurrection.” The Afeni Shakur-produced documentary incorporated rare archival footage and the MC’s own narration, recorded before his 1996 killing in a drive-by shooting. “Tupac: Resurrection” earned a “Best Documentary (Feature)” nomination at the 44th Annual Academy Awards.
In the spring of 2001, Todd Kreidler met his boss, the playwright August Wilson, for breakfast at the Cafe Edison, as was their custom. Mr. Kreidler was assisting Wilson as he brought his play “King Hedley II” to Broadway, but really he was there to learn whatever Wilson wanted to teach him. And that morning, the subject was Tupac Shakur.
After a bit of chitchat, Wilson was exasperated with his charge. “You don’t really know ‘Dear Mama,’ ” he said, referring to Shakur’s signature ode to his mother. He got up, threw money on the table, marched out the door and to the nearby Virgin Megastore. There, he bought a copy of Shakur’s album “Me Against the World” and pressed it into Mr. Kreidler’s hands.
“There’s nothing contained in your life that’s not contained in that music,” Wilson told him, Mr. Kreidler recalled. “There’s love, honor, duty, betrayal, love of a people. There’s a whole universe in that music!” He made it clear, with some vulgarities for emphasis, that Mr. Kreidler wasn’t to return to rehearsal until he’d absorbed it all.
So on the day in 2010, when Mr. Kreidler opened a FedEx box with 23 of Shakur’s CDs and two books of his writings, tasked with building from them a musical rooted in that rapper’s words, he was prepared.
The result is “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” which opens at the Palace Theater on June 19, and weaves 21 songs by Shakur (two of which are musically arranged versions of his poems) into a story about a community struggling to pull hope from the grasp of entrenched social ills. Put differently, it’s not a Broadway-ification of Shakur’s life or vision so much as a repurposing of his words into an emotionally felt, family-friendly context.
“It’s a story about unconditional love that uplifts all of his words,” said Kenny Leon, the musical’s director, a veteran of Wilson’s “Fences” and the current “A Raisin in the Sun.” In that, “Holler” has plenty in common with the rest of Broadway, and the creative team was careful in managing how the play handled what Mr. Leon termed “the things that people think they hate” — bad language, guns, violence.
But it’s an open question whether the familiar Broadway audience, or even the middle-class black theatergoers who have been drawn in by “Raisin,” can make room in their hearts and wallets for Shakur’s words. Hip-hop has made it to Broadway before, but the Tony-winning “In the Heights” tested the waters Off Broadway first, and didn’t have to contend with an implied star whom people find controversial even years after his death.
The $8 million production seems to be splitting the difference; opening directly on Broadway — in a prime Times Square location that last housed “Annie,” no less — but after the Tony awards deadline. (Pop-minded shows like “Bring It On – The Musical” have lately taken a similar route.) Though influential producers were invited to the show’s workshops, they by and large declined to invest. Instead, the lead producers are Eric Gold, a longtime Hollywood manager and producer who is new to Broadway, and Shin Chun-soo, a South Korean theater impresario. “I’m prepared to nobly fail or to nobly succeed,” Mr. Gold said.
Murdered in 1996 in a case that’s still unsolved, Shakur remains, even after all these years, one of hip-hop’s most celebrated figures, a radical thug intellectual with an outsize gift for creating his character in real time. He was prolific and contradictory, a child of activists signed, late in his career, to Death Row, the label that mainstreamed gangster rap.
According to Deadline.com, Open Road Films has acquired U.S. rights to Tupac, the long-awaited feature film on the life of hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur, directed by John Singleton. Written by Jeremy Haft & Ed Gonzalez and Singleton, the movie traces Shakur’s life from growing up as the son of activist Black Panther Party members in East Harlem, to reaching superstardom as a songwriter, music and movie star, to his position in the East Coast/West Coast rap war, to his untimely shooting death at 25 in Las Vegas after the 1996 Mike Tyson bout.
The film is being produced and financed by Morgan Creek Productions and Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, and one of the executive producers on the project is Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. It’s a reunion of sorts for Singleton and Tupac, as Singleton directed him in the 1993 film Poetic Justice.
The casting will start shortly, for a late summer production start in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.
After falling off the project two years ago, all eyes are on John Singleton to return to Morgan Creek’s untitled Tupac Shakur biopic — a film he’s long wanted to make. Singleton has closed a deal to rewrite, direct and produce the biopic about the iconic rapper, which would follow his rise to being one of the most popular hip-hop artists as well as his murder following a boxing match in 1996 in Las Vegas. Morgan Creek is co-financing the film with Emmett/Furla/Oasis.
“Tupac was the guy who I planned to do a lifetime of films with,” Singleton said. “His passing deeply affected my life as well as countless people in this world. His life story is as important to my generation.” The next move is to find the actor to play Shakur. Singelton will soon dive into rewriting the script, with hopes of beginning production sometime this June.
Singleton had once been linked to the project, but the deal fell through and the film has been in limbo ever since. James G. Robinson and David Robinson, along with Program Pictures’ L.T. Hutton, are also producing the pic. The film’s long history also includes a legal battle between Morgan Creek and Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur, over the rights that eventually led to a settlement and Afeni becoming an exec producer on the project. Training Day director Antoine Fuqua attached himself after Singleton’s original flirtation, but bowed out after he couldn’t get the right script in place or find a lead (Morgan Creek tried an open casting, but that didn’t pan out).
A new musical inspired by the rap songs of the late Tupac Shakur is heading to Broadway. Holler If Ya Hear Me is scheduled to open at the Palace Theatre in New York on June 19, with preview performances set to begin on May 26. Holler isn’t a biographical account of Shakur, who was killed at the age of 25 in 1996 following a shooting in Las Vegas. Rather, the musical production will use the rapper’s lyrics to tell a story of contemporary inner-city lives.
Among the producers of the musical are Afeni Shakur, the rapper’s mother; movie and TV producer Eric L. Gold; and Chunsoo Shin, the prominent Korean theater producer who recently collaborated with the La Jolla Playhouse on another musical, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Kenny Leon (Steel Magnolias, A Raisin in the Sun), will direct Holler, which will feature a creative team that includes Wicked choreographer Wayne Cilento. Rumors of the Shakur musical had been circulating for months, though no official announcement from producers had been made until Wednesday.