Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment, Warner Music Group and BlacKkKlansman co-writer Kevin Willmott have teamed for a biopic on Arthur Ashe, a civil rights activist and the only Black man to have won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
Oscar winner Willmott, a frequent collaborator of Spike Lee and co-writer of the filmmaker’s latest, Da 5 Bloods, will pen the screenplay. Amritraj will produce for Hyde Park with Warner Music Group’s Charles Cohen.
Music from Ashe’s era will be a key component of the drama, which has the backing of Ashe’s estate. Works from iconic Black artists such as Aretha Franklin, Prince and Curtis Mayfield will be highlighted, with Warner Music Group to play a role in securing the song rights and providing creative guidance.
“Arthur’s legacy reaches far beyond his greatness as a tennis player,” said Amritraj, himself a former tennis pro and brother of Vijay, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon. “Always a gentleman; bold, graceful, and intellectual, while at the same time passionate in his fight against racial inequality and injustice.”
Ashe’s US Open win in 1968 occurred against a tumultuous backdrop that included the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., anti-Vietnam protests, and the civil rights movement. On top of his groundbreaking sporting achievements and civil rights work in America, Ashe fought against South Africa’s apartheid system in the 1970s and 1980s, even getting arrested at a protest in Washington, D.C.
Ashe became an AIDS activist in the late 1980s after contracting HIV through blood transfusions related to heart surgery. He died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 49.
This isn’t the first crack at bringing Ashe’s story to the big screen. In 2017, David Goyer and Russell Hollander were among a set of producers developing a script written by Krystin Ver Linden. That project is now inactive.
Executive producing the project are Ashe’s wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Hyde Park’s Priya Amritraj and Addison Mehr, as well as Alexandra Dell.
Willmott, who won an Academy Award with Lee for BlacKkKlansman and also co-wrote Lee’s Chi-raq, is repped by Gersh and Erik Hyman at Paul Hastings LLP.