By Howard Pousner
Atlanta director Kenny Leon, whose Broadway mounting of August Wilson’s “Fences” won a Tony this year for best revival, has been selected as director of his first feature film.
Leon will direct “Cotton,” an independent feature based on the memoir “Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption” by rape victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and the man she mistakenly accused, Ronald Cotton.
Production is expected to start early next year, and Leon told the AJC on Tuesday that he “would love to see ‘Cotton’ shot in the South, maybe Georgia, but that has not been decided.”
Artistic director of Atlanta’s Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, Leon has been inching closer to Hollywood in recent years, after shooting the 2008 TV movie of “Raisin in the Sun” (based on his hit Broadway revival) and episodes of “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Private Practice” last season.
Producer David Friendly said that he sought out Leon while he was in Georgia to shoot the Martin Lawrence comedy “Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son” and saw a profile of the director in the AJC.
“It struck me that Kenny was the ideal director because he handles powerful stories so well,” Friendly told Daily Variety.
“Picking Cotton” is based on the 1984 rape of Thompson-Cannino, then a North Carolina college student, who later identified the 22-year-old Cotton as her attacker. Convicted and sentenced to life, Cotton maintained his innocence and was freed in 1995 after DNA testing. After his release, Cotton and Thompson-Cannino became friends and began working to promote understanding of the criminal justice system’s flaws.
Todd Komarnicki (”Elf”) wrote the adaptation of their 2009 memoir.
Leon told the AJC that he’s looking to direct a second indie feature next year, “Babylon,” which the director expects to shoot in Jamaica and New York City.