Kenya Barris joined the Variety Studio presented by Audible at the Sundance Film Festival and provided some new updates on three of his most high-profile new projects. It was announced back in 2020 that Barris was set to direct a biopic on Richard Pryor, one of the most influential comedians of all time. The project remains in development, only Barris now confirmed that it’s actually a television series.
“It’s a 10-part limited biographical series that takes a look from cradle to grave,” Barris said. “From his earliest upbringing — he grew up in a ho house, or a house of ill repute — and became, at one point, the biggest star in the world.”
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Barris said he is “in the room with it right now” as far as the development on the Richard Pryor series, adding, “It is my baby. I love it. He is my comedy god. A super flawed guy, but who everything, to this day, the comedy that we remember — even including [Dave] Chappelle — is derivative of what he started. That honest, reflecting, observational look at what the world is and the differences between us that actually make us more similar than we are apart. I think telling his story and letting people see things that they didn’t know about him is something that I’m super excited to bring to life.”
The “Blackish” creator and “You People” director also had updates for two classic films that he is updating: “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He confirmed the script for his reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz” is done. His version of Dorothy is a girl who lives in the Bottoms, which is a huge apartment complex located in Inglewood, Calif.
“The original ‘Wizard of Oz’ took place during the Great Depression and it was about self-reliance and what people were going through,” Barris said. “I think this is the perfect time to switch the characters and talk about what someone imagines their life could be. It’s ultimately a hero’s journey, someone thinks something’s better than where they’re at, and they go and realize that where they’re at is where they should be. I want people to be proud and happy about where they’re from. But I want the world to take a look at it and I hope that will come through.”
Barris is also remaking “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Paramount and centering the story around a person of color. He believes the story made famous in Frank Capra’s 1946 film starring Jimmy Stewart is tailor-made for a POC perspective.
“I feel like Christmas movies are amazing and I think the idea of taking something that has that long of a history and a tale behind it and putting an amazing piece of talent to tell that story,” Barris said. “It’s a guy who’s trying to help out his community and things are going to turn around on him. I think that’s the perfect story to tell for a person of color — Black or brown — to get into that because our communities have some issues and someone trying to help that community out. I think that’s the perfect vehicle to tell that story from.”
Barris added, “I’m still a believer in IP. I think I get shit for it sometimes but I believe that the idea of some of those great stories – stories are all told again and again and again. So having the opportunity to take some of those IPs and tell them from a different point of a view is a gift that I hopefully keep getting.”
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