Mahershala Ali is set to star as famed boxer Jack Johnson in a new limited series from HBO titled Unruly. Based on the 2004 PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, the six-part drama will be penned by Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Dominique Morisseau (Paradise Blue, Pipeline).
According to Deadline, Unruly will tell the story of Johnson, the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion, detailing his rise to athletic success as well as the cost—and legacy—of his defiance of racism at the height of Jim Crow.
Ali, who is a two-time Academy Award winner, made his professional stage acting debut as Jack Jefferson, a fictional African American boxer inspired by Johnson, in a 2000 production of Howard Sackler's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Great White Hope at Arena Stage.
HBO's Unruly is a project from Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s production company Playtone. The series will be executive-produced by star Ali via his production company Know Wonder, alongside Amatus Karim Ali and Mimi Valdés; writer Morisseau; and Ken Burns (director of Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson) via Florentine Films.
Johnson's life story was also at the heart of Marco Ramirez's play The Royale, seen at Lincoln Center Theater in 2016 starring Khris Davis. Sackler's play The Great White Hope was seen on Broadway in 1968 starring James Earl Jones.