Black Santa and Hip-Hop 'Oliver Twist': Disney's Diversity Push

Ava DuVernay, Kevin Hart and Ice Cube_Split - Getty - H 2016
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The studio is building an increasingly diverse catalog including Ice Cube starring in a fresh adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Kevin Hart as Santa Claus and Ava DuVernay's 'A Wrinkle in Time.'

Disney is betting that more inclusive casting will lead to bigger box office.

On Oct. 25, the studio revealed a fresh adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel Oliver Twist, with Ice Cube attached to play pickpocket-gang leader Fagin. The rapper will co-write the treatment with longtime collaborator Jeff Kwatinetz of The Firm, and both will produce alongside Wicked's Marc Platt. Hamilton's Thomas Kail will direct the modern musical, which will cross many genres including hip-hop.

Oliver Twist is in early development, as is Dashing Through the Snow, a family holiday comedy Disney announced Oct. 26. Kevin Hart is attached to play none other than Santa Claus in the original story that Ride Along's Will Packer is producing with Ted's John Jacobs.

"Inclusivity is not only a priority but an imperative for us, and it's top of mind on every single project," says motion picture production president Sean Bailey, who oversees Disney's live-action features.

The studio, which kicks off production Nov. 2 on Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time (starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Gugu Mbatha-Raw), released Mira Nair's Uganda-set drama Queen of Katwe in September. The $15 million movie (which has earned only $8.7 million worldwide) featuring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo might not have seemed an obvious match for a studio known for fairy tale tentpoles.

But it reflects Disney's increasingly diverse catalog, which includes its corporate parent's other properties such as Lucasfilm's The Force Awakens (which launched the careers of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega) and Marvel's upcoming Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Nyong'o.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.