Joe Louis rights holders Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, of Kirmser Ponturo Group, have signed a deal with the tandem of Bill Duke, Gilbert Adler and Joel Eisenberg to develop a Joe Louis biopic. The feature, expected to in part focus on the boxer’s historic two fights with the German Max Schmeling, is to be directed by Duke, and produced by Duke, Adler and Eisenberg.
Joe Louis Barrow, II., the son of the fighter, signed his father’s life rights to Kirmser and Ponturo in 2013. Originally intended as a stage play, Eisenberg approached Kirmser and inquired as to the project’s present status. He pitched the idea of a film, brought in Duke and Adler as his partners, and the deal was made.
Kirmer and Ponturo are presently developing a biopic of Vince Lombardi with Legendary Pictures. Eisenberg recently closed “The Chronicles of Ara,” his 8-novel fantasy epic co-written with Steve Hillard, with Ovation TV as a proposed 8-hour miniseries. Adler’s credits as a producer include “Valkyrie” and “Superman Returns.” Director Duke, a noted actor, directed the 2011 documentary “Dark Girls,” as well as the features “Sister Act 2,” “The Cemetery Club” and numerous hours of television.
Joe Louis became a symbolic figure in boxing during early global tensions leading to World War II. Nicknamed “The Brown Bomber,” Louis was a black man who fought extreme racism in and out of the ring, in the process becoming among the first U.S. black cultural heroes. He rose to international prominence and transcended the sport during the build-up to his two fights with the German Schmeling. Exploited as Hitler’s German Superman, Schmeling in reality had no love for the Nazi regime. Their two fights, in Yankee Stadium, was looked upon as a metaphor for the war, and Louis became a national figurehead. Schmeling handed Louis his first loss in their fist fight; Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round of their rematch.
“This project has been a passion project of mine for 25 years,” says Eisenberg. “It remains to me the greatest true-life story never filmed to its potential.”
Prior efforts to bring Louis’ story to screen appeared first in 1953, with the boxer playing himself in the low-budget “The Joe Louis Story,” and in 2002 for Starz! Pictures, a TV film entitled “Joe and Max.” Various filmmakers have attempted to bring the story to the big screen in recent years, including Spike Lee.
“Joe Louis was a hero of mine and every black man and woman during my childhood,” says Duke, “and he remains so today. He was a pivotal, historical figure.”
Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo are based in New York City. Eisenberg is repped by CAA. The project will be authorized, and Joe Louis Barrow, II. is attached as a producer. Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo are attached as Executive Producers. Their website is