Marrakech: Anton Corbijn Prepping Thurgood Marshall Drama

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Anton Corbijn

“I’m not American, I’m also not black, but it comes from that sense of injustice is the same for anybody," says the director about his upcoming feature 'The Devil in the Grove.'

Undeterred by the lackluster debut of his latest feature — the James Dean biopic Life, starring Dane DeHaan — director Anton Corbijn is looking to adapt the story of another great American icon for the screen.

The filmmaker is adapting the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Devil in the Grove, the story of the 1949 Padgett case in which four black men, falsely accused of rape, were defended by a young Thurgood Marshall. Adam Cooper and Bill Collage wrote the screenplay for Devil, based on Gilbert King's book.

The book focuses on Marshall's role in fighting to defeat America's Jim Crow laws before he rose to become a Supreme Court justice.

“This is relevant to what is happening in America at the moment,” Corbijn says of the racial tensions and the Black Lives Matter campaign that has been in political movement this year in the U.S.

The Dutch helmer admits he is not an obvious choice to examine the history of American race relations. “I’m not American, I’m also not black, but it comes from that sense of injustice is the same for anybody," he says. "I always feel very strongly about injustice being done to people worldwide. I was born on a little island in Holland, and I never saw a black person until I was probably 12, so it doesn’t come from there. It comes from that sense of injustice and I am interested in that subject matter ... it will be a great film, unless I f— it up."

While Marshall is a key figure in the story, Corbijn is quick to clarify Devil is not a biopic. The director is currently casting the film and is targeting a May start date set in the deep south of rural Florida. The pic is being produced by Alison Shearmur, hot off The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and 2 and of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
 
Commenting on the release of Life, which had an all-platform bow Dec. 4 in the U.S., opening in only 12 theaters, Corbijn acknowledged that the system of releasing smaller films directly online might kill cinema in the end.
 
“I’m not happy with it, but I have no say over it," the director told The Hollywood Reporter from Marrakech, where he currently is serving on the Marrakech International Film Festival's jury. "It’s all down to economics.
 
“I think it’s disappointing, but I’m happy the film exists, I’m happy it got made, I’m happy I have enough say in how the film looks,” Corbijn said of managing expectations. While big Hollywood productions have taken over multiplex screen space, he says he hopes there will still be room for a smaller movie "every once in a while that has a message and that is more connected to the human condition.”
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