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Singer Marvin Gaye

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Warner Bros acquires the biopic of legendary soul singer Marvin Gaye entitled What’s Going On, which Allen Hughes will direct, and produce with Dr. Dre, Jimmy Lovine and Andrew Lazar. We previously reported that Dr. Dre had been working to get the film produced in 2018, and three years later, it is finally in motion.

After several failed attempts from previous filmmakers in the past, this film will finally see the light of day as it details Marvin Gaye’s story. Warner Bros acquired a script by poet and playwright Marcus Gardley, who wrote the musical The Color Purple for the studio. Gaye’s estate and Motown are also involved in the acquisition, so the film will hav full use of all of the iconic singer’s signature songs.

In the exclusive Deadline story, Hughes discusses how close he is to the project.

“This is so personal for me,” Hughes says in the interview. “When I made my first film with my brother, we were fortunate to get “What’s Going On” into the trailer for Menace 2 Society, and it was a game changer in elevating the marketing of that film. Every film of mine but the period film From Hell had some Marvin Gaye in it, and I’ve just always connected to him. He’s the artist’s artist, with this ethereal voice that just comes out of the heavens. There have been plenty of great artists, and then Marvin, in his own lane. When you listen, in one measure you feel like you’ve read a novel. Such a rich inner life in that voice, heavenly but riddled with pain, the agony and ecstasy at the same time. When he gained his independence in the ’70s, with that album What’s Going On, then Trouble Man and Let’s Get It On, I Want You and his final masterpiece Here, My Dear, when it comes to vocal orchestrations and the way he layered his voice, he’s Mozart. You’ve heard of all these big-name directors that have tried for 35 years to consolidate these rights. This started with Dre, saying, ‘Let’s do this together,’ and then Jimmy came on, and Andrew Lazar, and we worked with the estate, with Motown and some other things that needed to be tied down, and we got it done.”

According to Deadline’s sources, the studio has pulled together its biggest budget yet for an African American music biopic at about $80 million. Hughes and the film’s producers have not decided on who will portray the famed singer, but they will begin their search to find the perfect star. The film is green lighted for production to begin next year, for a possible release in 2023 which will debut theatrically through Warner Bros and stream exclusively on HBO Max.

The film will follow the story of his past with events that helped shape his notable last tour. Deadline reports that the producers are more invested in “creating a musical odyssey and theatrical experience around the life of one of America’s greatest singers and musicians.”

The film will detail the tumultuous relationship Marvin Gaye had with his father, and it will celebrate the life of the women who inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time. What’s Going On will also give fans an understanding of how Marvin Gaye’s timeless music has shaped popular culture for over three decades. The movie intendeds to be a thrilling tribute to a true icon, whose music changed and shaped the world as we know it today.

Marvin Gaye made history as the first Black singer to sign a million-dollar record deal, and went on to have some of the most influential and politically charged songs as a solo act. He was inducted posthumously into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hughes hopes to use Gaye’s voice in the depiction of his songs within the film. He tells Deadline, “Marvin’s voice is so singular that 90% of it has to be the real guy, but hopefully we can find an actor who can tie it up with ligamental scenes, and live stuff where you do a blend. But mostly I want to honor that singular voice, and I don’t want to mimic it. But there are techniques I’ve been exploring audio-wise in live performance and recording in the studio. I’ve taken all those multi-tracks apart with Dr. Dre and it has revealed a lot, but we don’t want to play any tricks with what is probably the purest voice of all time.”

Hughes is a musical filmmaking pro at this point, working on the critically acclaimed series The Defiant Ones and his upcoming five-part FX docuseries entitled Dear Mama featuring Tupac and Afeni Shakur. Naturally, What’s Going On is right up his alley and he has the family’s approval with Marvin Gaye’s widow Jan Gaye signed on to executive produce the film.

We will keep you updated with what’s to come with the long-awaited Marvin Gaye biopic What’s Going On.