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Kenya Barris to Make Directorial Debut with Richard Pryor Movie

Kenya Barris is taking his talents to the big screen. Following a heated film rights auction, MGM will partner with the “Black-ish” creator for a movie based on the legendary comedian Richard Pryor

This will be Barris’s directorial debut. He also will write and produce the film with his Khalabo Ink Society production company. Other producers include Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, via her production company, Tarnished Angel, and Tory Metzger through the independent motion picture production company, Levantine Films.

(L) Kenya Barris and (R) Richard Pryor. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage. Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)

In an MGM statement, Barris said, “The way Pryor did what he did — with truth and specificity that was somehow self-aware and self-deprecating, and said with an unmatched level of vulnerability — that was the power and impact of his work.” The director added, “Pryor had a voice that was distinctly his and, in many ways, comedy since then has been derivative of what he created. To me, this is a film about that voice, the journey that shaped it, and what it took for it to come to be.”

MGM described Pryor as “a groundbreaking, once-in-a-lifetime talent.” The statement continued, “Richard Pryor was a masterful storyteller, a multi-talented entertainer, a comic of acerbic wit, and a survivor with no self-pity. With his raw, honest, and deeply personal approach to comedy, Pryor transformed the entire art form through his work, inspiring and influencing the generations of artists to come.” There’s no word on when production is set to begin for the movie or who will star in the film.

In 2016, plans were in the works for a Pryor film by the Weinstein Company. However, Deadline reported that the movie “never made it to the start line.” Filming was set to begin in 2017, first in March and then in October, with Lee Daniels as the director and Mike Epps set to play Pryor. The star-studded cast was slated to include Taraji P. Henson as Pryor’s mother, Eddie Murphy as Pryor’s father, Oprah Winfrey as Pryor’s grandmother, and Kate Hudson as the comedian’s widow Jennifer Lee Pryor. 

However, in April of that same year, it was announced that Daniels was stepping down from his directing gig for the Weinstein Company’s biopic on the comedian, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Daniels’s leave was due to his busy schedule. At the time, the director had gotten approval to start shooting “Star,” his second musical series for Fox. In a 2018 interview with WBLS, Epps updated listeners on that project, saying, “It was a Weinstein Company project… you might not see that one.” The Weinstein Company made headlines after its co-founder Harvey Weinstein was hit with several accusations of sexual assault. The company has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Pryor is regarded as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time. He has starred in nearly 50 films; he also wrote for shows like “Sanford and Son,” “The Flip Wilson Show,” and two Lily Tomlin specials, one of which earned him both an Emmy and a WGA Award. The actor died on Dec. 10, 2005, near Los Angeles, California. It was just nine days after his 65th birthday and after he’d suffered a third heart attack. 

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