Mahershala Ali to Play Boxing Icon Jack Johnson in HBO Limited Series

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2020

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 09: Mahershala Ali speaks onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali will portray legendary boxer Jack Johnson in Unruly, a six-part limited series for HBO, according to Variety's Joe Otterson.

Otterson noted Ali has already played Johnson for the play The Great White Hope.

Ali told the Hollywood Reporter's Brian Porreca in February 2017 that Johnson was one of the historical figures he'd relish emulating on the silver screen.

"He is somewhat of a tragic figure, but I would love to play Jack Johnson," he said. "I would love to play Marvin Gaye. Marvin Gaye and Jack Johnson are my dream roles, but I really just want the opportunity to go on the hero's journey. I've never done that."

Johnson retired with a record of 73-13-10. He was the first Black world heavyweight champion in boxing history when he defeated Tommy Burns in December 1908. 

The Undefeated's Rhiannon Walker noted Johnson thoroughly outmatched Burns, to the point Australian police intervened in the 14th round "to save Burns from further embarrassment and prevent the mostly white crowd of 50,000 from turning into a full riot."

The Great White Hope's title refers to the moniker given to James J. Jeffries, who had been the heavyweight champion from 1899 until his retirement in 1904. Jeffries fought Johnson for the title in 1910, with Johnson prevailing by TKO in 15th round. Race riots arose across the country in the aftermath of the event.

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