Duke inked a deal with holders of rights to Lewis’ story that will see him co-produce and direct the film, which will focus on Louis’ historic two fights with German boxer Max Schmeling.
The news comes shortly after Bill announced that he’s also developing a Nat Turner film starring Blair Underwood.
Spike Lee had been working with late screenwriter Budd Schulberg on a film about Louis when the writer passed away. Lee released a statement shortly after Budd’s death, vowing to complete the project to honor his late colleague.
“I miss my dear friend Budd Schulberg… We got along great, and I promised him that I would get our project ‘Save Us, Joe Louis’ made and I will make good on that promise,” Lee said after Schulberg’s death in 2009.
Given Duke’s takeover of the project, Lee’s film is unlikely to happen. Spike announced his project back in 2000, after he acquired the rights to Louis’s life from the champ’s son. As Shadow and Act notes, Lee’s primary focus was on the ‘symbolic roles of Louis, a hero for Black Americans in then a segregated America, and Schmeling, touted by Hitler as the ultimate Nazi fighting machine.’
“The hook is the relationship – as adversaries, as political tools, as opponents in the ring, and as friends – between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, and the arc of their lives. They engaged in perhaps the greatest two minutes of sports and warfare of the entire 20th century, symbolically speaking,” Lee said.
Last year it was announced that the right’s to Joe’s life had been picked up by Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo of Kirmser Ponturo Group, who have expressed no interest in Spike helming the project, but have instead given Bill Duke to greenlight to take Lewis life from the ring to the big screen.