Mahershala Ali is set to star as legendary boxer Jack Johnson in an upcoming HBO limited series titled “Unruly”. He will be producing it with Tom Hanks and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. This marks Ali’s second HBO series, after his role in the third season of True Detective back in 2019.
The series which will be written by playwright Dominique Morisseau and produced by Hanks’ production company, Playtone, is based on the Ken Burns documentary ‘Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson’ and the book by Geoffrey C. Ward.
Ali, the two-time Oscar winner, Ramy star, and former rapper had said that Johnson was his “dream role.” He previously played Johnson, the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion, in a 2000 revival of the play ‘The Great White Hope’.
Johnson, nicknamed the Galveston Giant, was one of America’s greatest boxers. He was also a man who liked going against society dictates on how he, as a black man in a white world, should live his life and that made him a target for those who hated him. Not only did he live a flashy life, he also married whites. Three times.
Johnson was convicted in 1912 for violating the Mann Act because of his relationship with his white wife, which was seen to be against nature.
The Mann Act, also known as the White Slave Traffic Act, is a statute that dealt with child pornography and prostitution. It was also used to prosecute black men for transporting white women across states.
An all-white jury took less than two hours to convict Johnson of the crime, thus derailing his career and ruining his reputation. Before serving his sentence, he fled to Europe where he was a fugitive for seven years. He surrendered in 1920.
Johnson’s contribution to civil rights and popular culture was immense. He was the subject of the movie The Great White Hope starring James Earl Jones and the documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” He has also been featured in songs and other productions.