Marvin Gaye Biopic For 2023 After Warner Bros Acquire Rights
Marvin Gaye will be the subject of What’s Going On, to be directed by Allen Hughes, who will also co-produce the film with Dr Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Andrew Lazar. The studio acquired a script by poet-playwright Marcus Gardley (he wrote the musical The Color Purple for WB) and the singer’s estate and Motown are part of the deal so there will be rights to use all of Gaye’s signature songs. This finally will bring to the screen the singer’s story, after many previous attempts by different filmmakers stalled or fell short of the rights needed.
“This is so personal for me,” Hughes told Deadline. “When I made my first film with my brother, we were fortunate to get What’s Going On into the trailer for Menace 2 Society, and it was a game changer in elevating the marketing of that film. Every film of mine but the period film From Hell had some Marvin Gaye in it, and I’ve just always connected to him. 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. 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. When he gained his independence in the 70s, with that album What’s Going On, then Trouble Man and Let’s Get It On, I Want You and his final masterpiece Here, My Dear. When it comes to vocal orchestrations and the way he layered his voice, he’s Mozart. You’ve heard of all these big-name directors that have tried for 35 years to consolidate these rights. This started with Dre, saying, ‘Let’s do this together,’ and then Jimmy came on, and Andrew Lazar, and we worked with the estate, with Motown and some other things that needed to be tied down, and we got it done.”
The film will have the biggest budget ever for an African American music biopic, north of $80 million. The Marvin Gaye estate and Motown are squarely aboard, with the singer’s widow, Jan Gaye, being an executive producer along with Suzanne de Passe. Hughes and the producers immediately will begin the search for the actor to play Gaye. The film is effectively greenlighted for a production start next year, for release in 2023.
Hughes explained that he expects to use Gaye’s voice in the depiction of his songs in the film. “Marvin’s voice is so singular that 90% of it has to be the real guy, but hopefully we can find an actor who can tie it up with ligamental scenes, and live stuff where you do a blend,” he said. “But mostly I want to honor that singular voice, and I don’t want to mimic it. But there are techniques I’ve been exploring audio-wise in live performance and recording in the studio. I’ve taken all those multi-tracks apart with Dr Dre and it has revealed a lot, but we don’t want to play any tricks with what is probably the purest voice of all time.”