Joel Kinnaman to Star as NFL Player Jerry Smith in Football and Civil Rights Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

Dave McNary
·3-min read

Joel Kinnaman will executive produce and star as NFL player Jerry Smith in a Fandomodo Films feature about the close friendship between Smith and his longtime Washington Redskins teammate Brig Owens, Variety has learned exclusively.

The film is set at the height of the civil rights movement between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, during a time of societal upheaval. Smith was secretly gay — a fact he kept hidden until his death from AIDS in 1986 — and Owens faced constant challenges and bigotry as a Black man while attending law school. Through it all, the men formed a close bond to always be there for each other regardless of differences or obstacles.

“Jerry Smith was a star on the field, but was never able to find fulfillment in his personal life,” Kinnaman said. “He had Brig to help him through his struggle, but to this day so many young people don’t have anyone to turn to when wrestling with homosexuality — especially in the sports world. That’s one of the reasons this story needs to be told. It’s as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.”

Production on the as-yet-untitled feature is slated to start in the third quarter of 2021.

Smith led the NFL in career touchdowns by a tight end when he retired in 1977 and was popular among his teammates despite keeping his private life a secret. Owens is second all-time for the Redskins (currently renamed the Washington Football Team) in career interceptions. After retirement, he finished his law degree and became an executive director of the Players Association he helped to create.

“Injustice for one person is injustice for every person,” said Owens. “I hope audiences will find our battles inspiring as we all come to grips with how much work is yet to be done to confront the prejudice that is still so deeply rooted in America.”

Tommy Oliver, whose credits include 2015’s “The Perfect Guy,” is producing through his Confluential Films with Anthony Kaan via Fandomodo Films. Oliver is penning the script based on a story by Owens and Kevin Vance. Kinnaman and Jon Bernthal are executive producing. Financing for the feature is through Fandomodo Films.

“Before Colin Kaepernick, there was Brig Owens,” Kaan said. “He stood up for the rights of players at a time when nobody else dared speak. He fought for justice on the field and off, and protected Jerry at a time when America was about to hear about the Stonewall riots for the first time.”

Kinnaman’s feature credits include “RoboCop,” “Suicide Squad” and its upcoming follow-up. His television appearances include “House of Cards,” “Hanna,” “The Killing” and “Altered Carbon.”

Oliver is the producer of the docu-series “Black Love” for OWN, now in its fourth season. He wrote, directed and produced the upcoming HBO documentary “40 Years a Prisoner,” which tells the story of the 1978 Philadelphia police raid on the radical group MOVE and its aftermath. He also produced “Kinyarwanda,” a feature set during the Rwandan genocide

Kaan founded the boutique film and television production and financing company Fandomodo in 2017. He was the co-founder of Relativity Digital Studios under the Relativity Media banner, and represented Coca-Cola and Hasbro while at CAA.

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