In yet another case of first comes a film, then comes its prequel series, Narcos co-creator Chris Brancato is revisiting at least one character from the acclaimed biopic American Gangster. He is currently developing a series called The Godfather of Harlem that will star Forest Whitaker, Screen Daily reports.
Whitaker is set to play Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, the mob boss whose death in American Gangster cleared the way for Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) to take over the Harlem criminal underworld. Johnson was portrayed in the film as a mentor to Lucas, but his screen time was limited — in fact, the actor who portrayed him, Clarence Williams III, went uncredited. With Johnson at the center of the project, we’ll get to see more of him and his infamous story.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Johnson moved to Harlem as a teenager, where he eventually made a name for himself. A controversial figure, he served multiple stints in prison but also was a hero in the eyes of many Harlem residents. He supported the Harlem Renaissance, even as he was reportedly involved in gambling, bootlegging, prostitution, and drug trafficking operations.
With its focus on Johnson, the project is “essentially the prequel” to American Gangster, according to Brancato. He spoke to Screen Daily while he attended the MIA Market conference in Rome and opened up about the project. Specifically, he revealed that it will be set five years prior to what we saw in the film and will look at what he describes as “the collision of the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement.”
“It’s an opportunity to examine some of the things that are going on racially right now, but through the prism of the past,” Brancato told Screen Daily.
At this point, the project does not have a home, but it is expected to be shopped to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. In the meantime, there is a script, and Brancato is working to get Kendrick Lamar on board for the show’s music. That is an intriguing possibility, and it seems like a good fit given the rapper’s willingness to tackle issues of race head-on.
No timeline for its release has yet been announced.