Lee Daniels to Direct Documentary About Harlem's Famed Apollo Theater

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Lee Daniels; Apollo Theater

The 'Empire' creator and the Apollo are appealing to members of the public to share any home footage or other memorablia they might have showcasing the theater's 80-year history.

Lee Daniels is set to direct The Apollo Film Project, an authorized documentary chronicling the history of the famed theater in Harlem, White Horse Pictures announced Thursday.

Born out of the Harlem Renaissance and established in 1934, the Apollo became the most prized venue on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” during the time of racial segregation in the U.S.  Over the years, it also became Harlem's answer to Carnegie Hall, showcasing such artists as Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Billie Holiday. And it was a launch pad for numerous musical greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson Five. 

Today, the Apollo hosts more than 100 performances on its stages annually, including artistic offerings from around the globe, robust education and community programs and shows by some of the most celebrated contemporary artists in the world, such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Metallica and Sam Smith. Amateur Night at the Apollo has been running virtually every Wednesday since it premiered in 1934, and to this day it remains a centerpiece of the theater’s performance schedule.

Daniels, creator of the hit Fox series Empire and whose film credits include Lee Daniels' The Butler, is joining Apollo Theater president-CEO Jonelle Procope in appealing to the public to cull through any memorabilia they might have.

“We are asking members of the community who have been to the Apollo, who may have parents or grandparents or other family members or friends who have done so, to help us find any material — audience footage, photographs, or other memories that we can use in our documentary film," the duo said in a statement. "We have established a website for anyone who wants to submit. We will, of course, respect everybody’s ownership of their property."

White Horse's Nigel Sinclair is producing the doc alongside White Horse director of features and head of documentaries Jeanne Elfant Festa via her Piper Cub Productions banner.

StudioCanal, Universal Music Group — which will curate the music — and Impact Partners are co-financing the project along with The Chicago Media Project. Impact Partners has financed such documentaries as The Cove and The Hunting Ground. StudioCanal will handle international distribution, while Impact and White Horse will rep domestic rights.

“I am honored to be entrusted with the story of this incredible American iconic institution and work with this team," said Daniels. "I used to go to the Apollo Theater as a kid and never in a million years would I have imagined I would be back to be doing this — it is very special for me."

Executive producers include Impact's Dan Cogan and Geralyn Dreyfus and StudioCanal chairman-CEO Didier Lupfer and executive vp Ron Halpern.

Daniels will direct from a script by Cassidy Hartmann, Mark Monroe (The Cove) and Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners).

“We are so proud to be collaborating with Lee Daniels and the entire production team on this documentary that will further illuminate the Apollo’s legacy and impact,” said Procope. “As we continue our work with artists and audiences here in Harlem and around the globe today, we are always looking to our shared legacy as a source for inspiration.”

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