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March 14, 2018

Madonna Will Direct a Michaela DePrince Biopic

The pop star-turned-entrepreneur has found her latest film in the story of an orphan-turned-ballerina.

The last two times Madonna made movies, they did not go down particularly well with critics or audiences. That said, bad reception didn’t stop her from picking up the rights to Andrew Sean Greer’s “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells” back in 2013. Although that adaptation still hasn’t seen the light of day, Madonna has reportedly chosen another project.

Variety announced that MGM’s Taking Flight, a film based on the memoir of dancer Michaela DePrince, will be her next film as a director. The transformative tale will depict DePrince’s life living in a Sierra Leone orphanage before fleeing to a refugee camp. DePrince was then adopted by a Jewish couple based in New Jersey. She began training as a ballerina after relocating to the United States and is now world-renowned.

Taking Flight sounds very much like your typical coming-of-age narrative, with an uplifting story about resilience and studiousness that aims to inspire, first and foremost. Per Madonna’s statement:

“Michaela’s journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity. We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside. I am honored to bring her story to life.”

Madonna and Taking Flight screenwriter Camilla Blackett (Fresh Off the Boat) have a huge responsibility to balance perspectives when it comes to adapting DePrince’s memoir. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the film could join the ranks of white savior narratives if it’s done incorrectly. But hopefully as noted in the aforementioned statement, the film will feature DePrince’s story at the forefront and focus on her achievements and strength of character. Biopics have to be focused in order to fully flesh out the onscreen iterations of real-life people. Any potential feelings of relatability and inspiration should then come as a byproduct.

Although Taking Flight seems like it will end up being more of a feel-good biopic than anything else, the theme of war is still unlike anything else Madonna has directed before. Whether she’ll be able to properly depict a warring nation is currently up in the air. As a filmmaker, Madonna has been accused of being flippant in her directorial choices, especially when it came to W.E., a historical romance drama about a woman who is obsessed with the relationship between King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson. Madonna was widely criticized for prioritizing aesthetics and forgoing a more plausible story. That said, reviewers neglected to consider how her filmmaking decisions aptly portray the subject matter of celebrity and scandal to some extent. Despite its paltry reception, the film simply ended up being an overly ambitious project that didn’t completely pan out for Madonna. But with the prospect of portraying the Sierra Leone Civil War, I’m sure the question evolves into, “What will Madonna’s films be without the glitziness? Will they still primarily be about the aesthetics?”

But perhaps it’s too early to speculate about Madonna’s burgeoning career as a filmmaker; maybe she’s more chameleonic than we realize. We can presume, as Variety’s report does, that she is still working on adapting “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells,” which — like W.E. — is a romance split across time and space. With “Greta Wells,” Madonna may be trying out a more nuanced approach to romance dramas while being on the lookout for more genres with which to expand her repertoire.

Furthermore, producers from Alloy Entertainment and MGM who will oversee Taking Flight have praised Madonna for her “passion” for the material as well, which could bode well when recreating real life onscreen. I don’t see many people being particularly excited about this development, but whatever the result, Madonna is preparing a return as a director in a big way.

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