Rocker-actor Lenny Kravitz has reportedly been tapped to portray Marvin Gaye in filmmaker Julien Temple’s forthcoming biopic.
The controversial British director stepped in to revive the project last year after both Cameron Crowe and F. Gary Gray abandoned plans to bring the soul legend’s life story to the big screen, and now Kravitz has been cast as the music icon…
Talk about making a movie about Motown’s sexiest singer has been going on since 2008, but talk is all there’s been so far. The original MSN article was skimpy with details so I read the London Evening Standard story it linked to. Here’s the graph that leaps out at me.
It would chart the final years of Gaye’s life in London from 1981, when he was suffering from an addiction to alcohol and an allergy to the taxman, and how he was rescued by music promoter Freddy Cousaert and spirited away to his flat in Ostend, Belgium, to recover.
Let’s translate what that really means.
By focusing on the last years of Gaye’s life overseas, that likely means his critical Motown years (and the Motown music and those messy licensing rights) will be skipped and so will the songs from Marvin’s most fertile years. No “What’s Going On.” No “Inner City Blues.” No “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Probably no Tami Terrell and definitely no marriage to Berry Gordy’s sister. Such omissions would be like doing a Martin Luther King, Jr. movie and skipping the “I Have A Dream” speech.
What we will get is the years when Marvin was a drugged-out hot mess who was too busy getting stoned and jacking off to porn (read Divided Soul by David Ritz like I did) to make music. Marvin was actually over and done until Freddy Cousaert cleaned him up that he could squeeze out a last gasp of brilliance with “Sexual Healing.”
Going to take a wild guess here, but I would bet this movie will focus on Cousaert saving Marvin from himself. In other words this will be a Good White Man rescuing a Talented, But Bad Black Man movie.
We’ve seen this movie when it was called ‘Round Midnight, The Blindside or The Hurricane. The Good White Person is the opposite of the Magic Negro. Whether it’s The Help, Mississippi Burning, Cry Freedom or Ghosts of Mississippi it’s the same old shuck n’ jive of White people waking up to realize “Gee, those Negroes got it tough,” and in falling all over themselves to aid those poor, helpless Black people shifting the emphasis to a coming-of-age story of the White person instead of the Black protagonist.
Finally, here’s the thing about a Marvin Gaye biopic: haven’t we heard this before? Never mind whether Lenny Kravitz can pull off playing Gaye. Jesse L. Martin left Law and Order to make a Gaye film and how much luck has he had?
“(Making the film is) impossible. It’s just not… I don’t know (if it’ll happen). I mean, I just sort of threw that one up to the universe and said, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’ll be’, but it seems impossible to put together, it really does. It just hasn’t happened… There’s five or six (other Gaye projects) in the works. I actually feel less pressure. There’s so many stories out there trying to happen that it just seems like it might be impossible. Nobody’s done it yet. We haven’t done it, nobody else has either, so there seems to be a reason you haven’t seen that story on the big screen yet. I don’t know what it is, but we’re gonna have to change tactics and do it on stage, or something like that. That would actually be a great idea! So we’ll see, we’ll see.”
A few years ago there were no less than four Marvin Gaye biopics floating around, but none of them went into the production phase. F. Gary Gray (Set It Off) had one. Cameron Crowe worked on another for four years with Terrence Howard attached before he hung it up. Julian Temple’s was called Midnight Love (and still may be for all I know) and focuses on Gaye’s years in Brussels stoned out of his mind until he cleaned up long enough to record “Sexual Healing.”
Don Cheadle has tried for years to make a Miles Davis biopic with no luck. The most recent thing I’ve heard about that project is that instead of it being a biography of the Dark Magus, now it’s just going to be Miles meeting a White fan and how the fan’s world is rocked by the encounter.
I’m not going to gripe about the casting of Kravitz to play Gaye. He doesn’t look or sound anything like Marvin, but Beyoncé didn’t look anything like Etta James either. The way I’m looking at it is, I sincerely doubt this movie will ever see the light of day or the dark of a movie theater.
Gaye was a brilliant singer, a sex symbol, a neurotic freak; his chaotic life was made for the movies, but deserves an in-depth exploration, not a Spark Notes version.
I’ll believe in a Marvin Gaye movie when I see it and I doubt I ever will.
- Lenny Kravitz cast as Marvin Gaye in upcoming biopic (thegrio.com)
- 40 Years Since Marvin Gaye’s Forgotten Classic (npr.org)
- Bevy of Black Biopics Beset By Legal Bog Downs (atlantablackstar.com)