Defender, The: Biopic to Star Sterling K. Brown as Heroic Lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones

Searchlight Pictures Nabs ‘The Defender,’ Sterling K. Brown to Star

George Tillman Jr. will direct the period drama about heroic lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones.

Searchlight Pictures has acquired the script rights to The Defender, with George Tillman Jr. attached to direct and Sterling K. Brown to star in the lead role of Black American defense lawyer and activist Scipio Africanus Jones.

The real-life drama will portray Africanus Jones, the courageous attorney who after the Elaine, Arkansas race riot and massacre of 1919 risked his life and career to defend 87 men wrongfully accused of murder. The project, picked up after a competition, was written by E. Nicholas Mariani and was part of the 2018 Black List selection.

Brown stars in NBC’s This Is Us drama and recently wrapped production on the indie film Honk for Jesus, Save your Soul. Tillman Jr. produced and directed The Hate U Give for Fox 2000 Pictures, based on the novel by Angela Thomas.

Brown will produce with 21 Laps’ Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, while Mariani and Danielle Reardon will executive produce with Dantram Nguyen and Katie Goodson-Thomas. Richard Ruiz will oversee for Searchlight.

21 Laps currently has the Disney box office hit Free Guy in theaters, which has grossed over $325 million worldwide. Ben Wilkinson, vp of business affairs, negotiated the deal for Searchlight Pictures along with WME and CAA acting for the filmmakers.