The James Brown Effect

From Mick Jagger to Jill Scott, the filmmakers and cast of Get on Up discuss the Godfather of Soul’s influence.

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In this file picture taken in September 1971, James Brown performs at the Olympia hall in Paris.

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From the vocal inflections of his soulful voice to the electrifying dance moves, stunning audience interaction and a theatrical flair for the dramatic, James Brown left a lasting influence that’s apparent to every student of American music. With the upcoming biopic Get on Up, old fans and younger ones alike will get a chance to immerse themselves in the contagious funk and emotional story of the Godfather of Soul. 

During a press event in New York City, the cast—including star Chadwick Boseman and co-stars Jill Scott, Nelsan Ellis and Dan Aykroyd; executive producers Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger; and director Tate Taylor discussed the making of the film and the singer’s incredible legacy.

“I met Mr. Brown about 16 years ago. I’ve met a lot of interesting people on the journey, and I thought it would be interesting to make a movie about James Brown. I transitioned from that point to convincing James Brown that I should do his life story, that I should make it into a movie," said Grazer.

“I owned the rights for about 12 years, and within those 12 years, I kept having to renew those rights with James Brown directly, hire screenwriters and, once upon a time, a different director,” he continued. “It was a tedious and arduous process. When James Brown died, I lost the rights because the rights became even further complicated. A year later Mick and I—we knew each other for years prior—had the opportunity to read the script, and he ended up with the rights and we eventually decided we would do it together. It was a fantastic process.”

Born May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, S.C., Brown became one of the greatest performers in the world. His career ran the better part of six decades and has influenced nearly every performer who followed him in one way or another. But the new film on his life isn’t the first time Brown hit the big screen.

The real James Brown amassed a formidable filmography that featured such fan favorites as The Phynx (1970), The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), Doctor Detroit (1983), Soulmates (1997) and Undercover Brother (2002). Brown was also featured in more than a dozen documentaries and concert films. 

The Rolling Stones lead singer experienced Brown’s flair for the dramatic up close and personal. A scene in Get on Up recalls the moment when Brown upstaged the Rolling Stones during a performance on the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964. Jagger says he was a fan of Brown’s as early as 1958.

“I was asked by a business associate and friend if I would make a documentary about James Brown,” said Jagger. “I said, ‘Let me think about that.’ Then he said, ‘Let’s do a theme show.’ I thought that was a wonderful idea. Problem is, there already was a theme show. There’s never been a feature about it. Then I learned of the script. That’s the short version how I got involved. In Hollywood terms, from beginning to the Aug. 1 opening of the movie has been a relatively short time to get it done.”

Brown always felt the need to give back to the African-American community, and he was known to associate with the likes of H. Rap Brown, activist James Meredith and other black-rights advocates in the 1960s and 1970s. Brown was credited with preventing a riot in Boston following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. simply by performing. Brown would later say he lost a significant portion of his crossover audience when he released “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

But the song had a far-reaching influence and even touched a younger generation. “I remember living on 22nd and Lehigh Ave. [in Philly], and someone was playing ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud,’” says Jill Scott, who plays Brown’s wife Dee-Dee Jenkins in Get on Up. “I can’t remember how old I was, but I’m pretty sure I was in elementary school, and I remember he was at the stoplight and the music was blaring, and I remember something in me stood up a little higher. I puffed my chest out listening to that song. That was the first James Brown feeling that I really remember.”

Read more at the Shadow League.