Tonya Lewis Lee Nabs YA Novel 'Trell' From Former Spotlight Team Reporter Dick Lehr (Exclusive)

Tonya Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of ToniK Prods

Jamal Joseph will adapt the book from the author of 'Black Mass,' which was turned into the Johnny Depp starrer.

There’s another Lee stepping into the spotlight.

Tonya Lewis Lee — wife of Spike and a producer in her own right — and her ToniK Prods. partner Nikki Silver have acquired the rights to Dick Lehr’s YA novel Trell. Inspired by the true story of one of Boston’s most notorious murders, the story chronicles an African-American girl’s fight to free her wrongfully convicted father from prison.

Lehr (repped by Fourward), a former reporter for the Boston Globe’s famed Spotlight Team, covered the story three decades ago before turning it into a youth-skewing page-turner last year (he also is the co-author of Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal, which was turned into a Johnny Depp film in 2015).

Jamal Joseph (CAA, Fourward, attorney Willard Stanback), best known for writing and directing the indie Chapter & Verse, is adapting. Lewis Lee and Silver are producing alongside Micheal Flaherty of Epiphany Story Lab. Jennifer Gardner Trulson is exec producing, while Valerie McGowan is co-producing.  

Trell marks the first film from Lee and New York-based ToniK since the Sundance drama Monster, which stars Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman protagonist John David Washington. “I cast him first,” Lewis Lee jokes. “We were looking for someone to play this really thuggish, evil character.  And I was like, ‘Let’s see if John David’s available and would be up for it.’”

ToniK’s upcoming film slate also includes Gallagher Girls, a Kingsman-esque action comedy about a secret spy school for girls, now set up at Paramount.

On the TV front, she’s developing Gotham Diaries, based on a 2004 novel she co-wrote with Crystal McCrary Anthony. And ToniK optioned a series of articles by Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales (The Bling Ring) about wild New York teens in the ’90s that will be titled Prep School Gangsters (Sales also wrote the pilot).

As for her husband of 25 years, Lewis Lee says they will continue to collaborate on the Netflix TV series She’s Gotta Have It. But that’s all for now.

“I think for the sake of our relationship, it’s probably better that we try to keep things separate,” she says. “Although She’s Gotta Have It has been a really great experience.”