Searchlight Pictures has snapped up E. Nicholas Mariani’s 2018 Black List script The Defender which George Tillman Jr. will direct with 3x Emmy winning actor Sterling K. Brown to star as heroic lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones.
Jones was a courageous attorney who, in the wake of the Elaine, Arkansas Massacre of 1919, risked his life and career to defend 87 men wrongfully accused of murder.
Brown will produce with 21 Laps’ Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen. Mariani and Danielle Reardon will executive produce with Dantram Nguyen, Katie Goodson-Thomas and Richard Ruiz overseeing for Searchlight. Ben Wilkinson, VP Business Affairs and Legal Counsel, negotiated the deal for Searchlight along with WME and CAA on behalf of filmmakers.
Tillman Jr. produced and directed the critically acclaimed movie The Hate U Give for Fox 2000 Pictures, based on Angela Thomas’ novel. Prior to this, he produced and directed The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Lionsgate. Other directing credits include Men of Honor starring Robert DeNiro and the Searchlight biopic Notorious. He is currently in pre-production for Heart of a Lion, the biopic under Sony’s Affirm label.
Brown currently stars on NBC’s This Is Us for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award for in the Outstanding Lead Actor-Drama series category. Overall, Brown has received five consecutive Emmy noms for This Is Us. Brown also won an Emmy for Outstanding narrator this year for CNN’s Lincoln: Divided We Stand. He also won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
He recently wrapped production on the indie movie Honk for Jesus, Save your Soul, which he is also producing, and the sci-fi film Biosphere. Brown’s other feature credits include Marvel’s Oscar-winning film Black Panther, A24’s Waves, and Disney’s Frozen 2. His Indian Meadows Productions has a production deal under 20th Television; that company’s chief mandate is to champion diversity through the development and production of entertaining, educational and inclusive projects.
Mariani was recently elected to the WGA board of directors, and is currently writing War Magician, based on the book by David Fisher. Colin Trevorrow will direct the Studiocanal WWII drama, with Benedict Cumberbatch set to star.
Tillman Jr. is represented by CAA. Brown is represented by JWS Entertainment, CAA, Jill Fritzo PR and Ziffren Brittenham. Mariani is represented by Verve and Ginsburg Daniels Kallis.