Mahershala Ali to Play Legendary Black Boxer Jack Johnson in HBO Limited Series

Illustration for article titled Mahershala Ali to Play Legendary Black Boxer Jack Johnson in HBO Limited Series
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Mahershala Ali has been tapped to play Jack Johnson, the world’s first Black heavyweight champion, for an upcoming limited series on HBO.


According to a report from Variety, the Oscar-winning actor will star in a retelling of Johnson’s life that focuses heavily on the challenges he faced as a talented and outspoken Black athlete in the Jim Crow era.

From Variety:

The six-part series is titled “Unruly.” It is described as an unapologetically Black, no-holds-barred telling of Johnson’s life. The first ever Black heavyweight boxing champion, the show would follow Johnson’s rise to greatness and the costs he paid for his skin color and defiance.

The series is based on the PBS documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” which was produced and directed by Ken Burns, as well as the accompanying book by Geoffrey C. Ward.

Johnson’s career was characterized by heights of success and bouts of controversy—the latter of which was often racial. The boxing champion was notoriously victorious in a 1910 match-up against the so-called “great white hope,” James J. Jeffries, the results of which left white people so mad they responded by rioting and killing black people all across the U.S.

Ali depicted the boxer in a 2000 stage production of his life and earned an Emmy nomination for his last starring role on HBO in season three of True Detective.

The new series will be written and executive produced by Dominique Morisseau, a Macarthur Genius Grant recipient and writer of the Tony-nominated play “Ain’t Too Proud–The Life and Times of The Temptations.”

Sounds like a whole lotta Black excellence! There’s no news yet on when the series will premiere, but we’ll certainly be watching when it does.

Writer, speaker, finesser, and a fly dresser. Jamaican-American currently chilling in Chicago.



Congratulations to Mahershala Ali! Wesley Snipes must be seething. His name was floating around for a while for him to play Jack Johnson while Ali is slated to be the next anti-hero in the reboot of “Blade”. That’s gotta hurt.