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Mahershala Ali has always made quite the impression any time he's shown up on a television series, especially in the last few years. We've seen him stun as a villain on Luke Cage and give us Emmy-nominated turns on both House of Cards, and HBO's True Detective, which was just in 2019. Now, the two-time Academy Award winner is heading back to HBO, but it's not for Season 4 of that acclaimed drama. Instead, Ali will be taking on the role of boxer Jack Johnson for a new limited series.
Mahershala Ali is returning to premium cable for Unruly, a six-part drama that will see him star in an account of Jack Johnson's life, as he rose to fame and became the world's first black heavyweight boxing champion. The show will also delve into the many costs that Johnson paid for being an unapologetically black popular public figure during the Jim Crow era.
Unruly will be based on the 2004 Ken Burns PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, as well as the book by Geoffrey C. Ward, which accompanied the film. According to Variety, the series was first put into development at HBO back in 2013. Along with starring, Mahershala Ali is set to executive produce Unruly, along with Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Mimi Valdés, Amatus Karim Ali, and Ken Burns. Dominique Morisseau (Shameless) will write the series, and also executive produce.
Even if you've been keeping up with Mahershala Ali's career for some time, you might not know that this isn't the first time the actor has played Jack Johnson. He also took on the role in a 2000 stage production of The Great White Hope, a play which also chronicled Johnson's rise to fame amid his marriage to first wife Etta Terry Duryea in 1911, who was white. Johnson was the heavyweight champion from 1908 through 1915, and came under fire many times for opening a desegregated restaurant and nightclub, and his many public relationships with white women.
While Mahershala Ali has been on our screens for almost two decades (with his first TV role coming in 2001 on Crossing Jordan), many people really began to take notice with his role as Remy Danton in Netflix's long-running political drama House of Cards. In addition to last year's third season of True Detective, and his portrayal of Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes in Luke Cage, Ali has also had major television roles in The 4400, Alphas, his recent turn on Hulu's Ramy, and another HBO series, Treme.
Ali's film work, of course, has garnered him much love and attention in the past couple of years. In 2017 and 2019, he won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his parts in two Best Motion Picture of the Year winners, Moonlight and Green Book, respectively. He's also been in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (his film debut), Predators, The Place Beyond the Pines, Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Alita: Battle Angel, and will help reboot Blade in the MCU as the title character in the upcoming film of the same name.