Baywatch helmer Seth Gordon will direct Tulia, a feature film based on a true story and the 2005 book Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town.
The plot is set in the summer of 1999, in the tiny West Texas town of Tulia, where 39 people — almost all of them black — were arrested and charged with dealing powdered cocaine.
But the federally funded investigation was based on the work of one notoriously unreliable undercover officer: Tom Coleman. Despite the flimsiness of the evidence against them, virtually all the defendants were convicted and given sentences as high as 99 years. Coleman was named a Texas Lawman of the Year for his work.
The story, centering on the larger issues of racial injustice, poverty, desperation and the American war against drugs, will also follow Vanita Gupta and the NAACP team who fought a valiant battle against seemingly insurmountable odds to obtain acquittals in 2004 for the majority of the victims.
Mubina Rattonsey's L.A.-based production shingle, Zero Gravity Motion Pictures, acquired the film rights from author Nate Blakeslee, and also optioned the life rights to the story and event's central figure, Gupta. Rattonsey will produce. The filmmakers are zeroing in on a screenwriter.
"Mubina has found an extraordinary true story that is very relevant in today's political climate," said Gordon. "I'm excited to bring this important and poignant story to a wider audience, to call attention to what happened in Tulia, and to showcase the incredible and heroic work Vanita Gupta did for its citizens."
Gupta has moved on to fight many prominent civil rights battles and was appointed by President Obama as assistant attorney general for the civil rights division and the top civil rights prosecutor for the United States Department of Justice.
Added Rattonsey: "Seth is a dynamic storyteller, to say the least, and I'm extremely proud to have him direct this movie. Vanita Gupta is the daughter of an immigrant and a very inspiring and strong woman. Tulia is her story, and for me, it represents what America stands for — the coming together of minds and hearts for justice. Vanita turned the case around; she won it. … I was simply fascinated by her will to do the impossible."
Tulia will be an interesting change of tone for Gordon, who has spent the last few years directing comedies. He most recently directed this summer's Baywatch starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. His other credits include comedies Identity Thief and Horrible Bosses. He is repped by WME, Brillstein Entertainment and Sloane, Offer.
Rattonsey is represented by Benjamin R. Reder of Reder & Feig LLP.