Rodney Barnes Joins HBO’s Jack Johnson Limited Series Starring Mahershala Ali As Writer & Executive Producer

EXCLUSIVE: Winning Time executive producer Rodney Barnes has boarded HBO’s limited series project, set to star Mahershala Ali as boxing legend Jack Johnson. Barnes, who is under an overall deal with HBO, will serve as writer and executive producer on the Untitled Jack Johnson limited series (fka Unruly), bringing a brand new take on adapting the PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, produced and directed by Ken Burns, and its companion book by Geoffrey C. Ward.

He is one of several new creative auspices who have joined the project in development, originally announced in 2020, along with Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim; Insecure), who has come on board as executive producer and director, and Khaliah Neal (The Last Black Man in San Francisco; P-Valley), who has signed on as executive producer.

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Barnes succeeds Dominique Morisseau, who had been originally tapped to write the limited series from Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone.

The six-part series is described as an unapologetically Black, no-holds-barred telling of Jack Johnson (Ali), the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion.  This bold exploration depicts the champion’s rise to athletic greatness and the costs he paid for his skin and defiance, which created a blueprint for Black resistance in every justice movement for generations to come.

Ali executive produces via his his production company Know Wonder alongside his wife Amatus Karim Ali and their producing partner Mimi Valdés. Hanks and Goetzman executive produce for Playtone, along with Ken Burns via Florentine Films. Beau Willimon serves as co-executive producer alongside Playtone’s Steven Shareshian.

Barnes, as part of his HBO overall deal, co-wrote 9 of 10 episodes and served as executive producer on the first season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, and is now working on the series’ upcoming second season.

In addition to film and TV, Barnes is a veteran comic book creator who earned an Eisner Award nomination for his acclaimed graphic novel Killadelphia. Barnes also launched his own comic studio and publishing imprint, Zombie Love Studios, aimed at creating a space dedicated to storytelling from BIPOC perspectives. Additionally, he has a podcast dedicated to tales of Black folklore coming up.

Barnes, whose TV writer-producer credits also include HeelsThe Boondocks, Everybody Hates Chris, Marvel’s Runaways, Starz’s American Gods, Wu-Tang: An American Saga and My Wife and Kids, is repped by UTA, Artists Ft and attorney Darrell Miller at Fox Rothschild. Matsoukas is repped by CAA and Gang, Tyre, Ramen, Brown & Passman. Ali is repped by WME, Cognition and Sloane Offer Weber Dern.

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