Little known these days, but much maligned in his time, Jack Johnson was one of the greatest fighters of his day. Becoming the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion over a hundred years ago, made for an array of turbulent events, which director Ken Burns hopes to highlight in an upcoming 4- to 6-part HBO miniseries. Having already touched on the champ in 2004’s “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” Burns is exploring his story further with help from Tom Hanks, handling Executive Producer duties.
In many ways Johnson was the Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, or Floyd Mayweather Jr. of his era in boxing. Dominant within the ring, showy outside it, with a raft of celebrity endorsement deals to his name. Ultimately, his refusal to be subservient during the oppressive Jim Crow time period, and the inability of white fighters to beat him, lead to Johnson being heavily persecuted, even fleeing from the law. Joining Burns and Hanks to recount the boxer’s life is “Ides of March” screenwriter and playwright Beau Willimon. At present, there’s no set date for the HBO series.
Johnson at work: