The “N.W.A.” group member was granted rights to use the singer’s likeness in 2018 by Gaye’s estate, but the project has been stalled until now. With the backing of Warner Bros., which has acquired the screenplay and secured use of Gaye’s signature songs, and “Menace II Society” director Allen Hughes at the helm, the movie may finally see the light of day.
The biopic is tentatively titled “What’s Goin On” after Gaye’s 1971 era-defining album of the same name. The soul singer was fatally shot by his father in 1984, one day before his 45th birthday. Some of his most well-known songs include “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Sexual Healing,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” In 1998, Gaye’s “What’s Goin On” album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“This is so personal for me,” Hughes told Deadline. His love for Gaye’s music goes back decades, but it was made even more special when Hughes and his brother, Albert Hughes, were granted use of “What’s Going On” in the trailer for “Menace II Society.”
“He’s the artist’s artist, with this ethereal voice that just comes out of the heavens. There have been plenty of great artists, and then Marvin, in his own lane,” continued Hughes. “When you listen, in one measure you feel like you’ve read a novel. Such a rich inner life in that voice, heavenly but riddled with pain, the agony and ecstasy at the same time.”
It is rumored that Warner Bros. will put up more than an $80 million budget for the film. If true, “What’s Going On” would be a history-making film with the biggest budget allocated to an African-American biopic. Jan Gaye, the singer’s widow, and Motown Records are also heavily involved in the production of the film.
A synopsis for “What’s Going On” shares, “The intention is not to do a by-the-numbers biopic but rather to create a musical odyssey and theatrical experience around the life of one of America’s greatest singers and musicians. The film will thread the story of his past with events that helped shape his infamous last tour. Not only does it depict the tumultuous relationship he had with his father, it celebrates the life of the women who influenced Gaye’s career and inspired some of the most iconic love songs of all time.”
While casting is not yet underway, fans are already suggesting “Atlanta” star Donald Glover or “Bridgerton” heartthrob Rege-Jean Page take on the lead role.