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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks will play gospel music icon Mahalia Jackson in a biopic on Lifetime.
The movie, Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story, is the first in a four-film deal with the Good Morning America anchor. Roberts previously executive produced the cabler’s movie Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story, and produced and hosted a documentary special about the real-life case.
The Mahalia Jackson Story will trace Jackson’s life and career as she became arguably the best known gospel singer in the mid-20th century and a civil rights activist who sang at the 1963 March on Washington. She sold millions of records and was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. She also sang at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball in 1961.
The green light for the movie follows on the success of April’s The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel, which drew the biggest same-day audience (2.7 million viewers) for a Lifetime movie in four years.
Tony Award winner and Emmy nominee Kenny Leon (American Son, Hairspray Live, Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias) will direct The Mahalia Jackson Story. The movie represents a reunion for him and Brooks, whom Leon directed in Much Ado About Nothing last year at Shakespeare in the Park in New York.
“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on Steel Magnolias and Robin Roberts on Stolen by My Mother, I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, executive vp movies, limited series and original movie acquisitions for Lifetime and LMN. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”
Brooks is coming off of Orange Is the New Black, which ended its seven-season run on Netflix in 2019. She shared in the show’s three SAG Award wins for comedy series ensemble and also has a Grammy for cast recording of The Color Purple on Broadway. She does voice work on HBO Max’s animated series Close Enough, which premiered July 9. Brooks is repped by Door 24 Entertainment, CAA and Paul Hastings.
The Mahalia Jackson Story is produced by Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions. Roberts and Linda Berman executive produce.