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Starz is ready to get its samurai on.
The premium cable network is teaming with Common, RZA and Jerry Bruckheimer to develop Marc Olden’s book series Black Samurai as a scripted TV series. Common is attached to star, while RZA and Bruckheimer will executive produce.
The drama follows Robert Sand (Common), a highly trained American Army Ranger whose life is transformed when he meets a legendary Japanese master who invites him to train as a samurai. After his beloved sensei and samurai brothers are killed by mercenaries, Sand is thrust on a worldwide journey of both revenge and self-discovery.
Starz notes that the potential series will be updated from the original novels and subsequent 1977 blaxploitation film that starred Jim Kelly. The drama will be a mashup of the spy and martial arts genres and infused with the heart, soul and music of Common and the Wu-Tang Clan, creating a modern-day international action star.
Common (Selma) will executive produce via his Freedom Road Productions banner. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (American Gangster, Fox’s short-lived drama Gang Related) and Mitchell Diggs will also executive produce for Wu Films. Bruckheimer and his JBTV banner’s Jonathan Littman and KristieAnne Reed will exec produce; James Oh will produce. Freedom Road’s Derek Dudley, Shelby Stone (The Chi) and Diane Crafford as well as Cinemation’s Andre Gaines (Bill Nye: Science Guy) will also exec produce. Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (National Treasure, Bad Boys II) will pen the script and serve as showrunners should the project move forward. Starz will retain all global distribution and home entertainment rights to the series.
“We cannot wait for the world to meet Robert Sand — part Jason Bourne, part James Bond, and 100 percent the hero we need today. Black Samurai promises to be an action-packed ride and with the Bruckheimer team, Common, RZA and Andre at the helm, we can feel certain this will be exceptional storytelling,” Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik said Tuesday in a statement.
Black Samurai marks Common’s return to the small screen following his leading role on AMC Western Hell on Wheels, which he exited during its fourth season in 2014.
“I’m beyond excited about Black Samurai. This is a unique and special project that offers something rarely seen in art and culture today,” Common said. “It’s an honor to play the character of Robert Sand and to have my production company Freedom Road Productions partnering with Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, RZA and Starz to deliver something fresh and new to people. I can’t wait to dig into this character and the martial arts worlds of gun fu, kung fu, jujitsu and more. Look out world, Black Samurai is coming!”
RZA most recently starred on Fox’s Gang Related. He also directed an episode of Marvel’s Netflix drama Iron Fist and guest-starred on FX’s 1980s-set cocaine drama Snowfall.
“I’ve been a fan of the Robert Sand character since I was a kid, Black Samurai being one of the films that got me into the martial art genre,” RZA said. “A chance to combine with Jerry Bruckheimer, Common and Andre Gaines to reintroduce this character to a new generation makes myself and my partner Mitchell Diggs at Wu Films super stoked. With the Wibbs leading the writing team and Starz as our outlet, I’m certain the series will find its fan base.”
Should Black Samurai move forward, it would join a Bruckheimer TV roster that also includes CBS’ The Amazing Race and Fox’s Lucifer.
“We are absolutely thrilled to partner with Starz, Common, RZA and Andre Gaines on Black Samurai,” Bruckheimer said. “This incredible creative team will combine all of their talents and experience to bring the classic book series to brand-new life with cutting-edge artistry, music and imagery.”
Bruckheimer, Common, Littman and Wu Films are repped by CAA. Gaines is with Ethan Cohan, Todd Weinstein and Gordon Bobb at Del Shaw. The Wibberleys are repped by UTA.
Starz has found success with scripted originals that target underrepresented viewership. The cable network’s roster includes Survivor’s Remorse, Power, Outlander, American Gods and Ash vs. Evil Dead, among others.