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Roger Donaldson to Direct Racial Drama ‘Jena Six’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 2/9/2017 Dave McNary
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Roger Donaldson is directing the independent drama “Jena Six,” with production set to start in April in New Orleans, Variety has learned exclusively.

Donaldson, whose recent credits include “November Man” and “The Bank Job,” is directing from a screenplay by Jonathan Amaret. Producers are Amaret and Dawn Krantz (“Man Down”).

The “Jena Six” were six black high school students in a small Louisiana town who were initially charged with attempted murder in a 2006 attack on a white student. The attack took place several months after a series of racial incidents at the school, including three nooses hanging from a tree at the high school a day after a black student asked the principal if black students could sit under the tree.

The victim of the attacks was treated at an emergency room for several hours and attended a high school dance that evening. The six teenagers were arrested and Mychal Bell, a teenager, was convicted by an all-white jury of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery — meaning that he faced a sentence of up to 22 years.

News of the conviction sparked outrage and allegations that the prosecution was racially motivated and disproportionate to the crime. A civil rights demonstration drew more than 15,000 protesters to Jena and was attended by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III.

An appeals court found that Bell should not have been tried as an adult. Before his trial as a juvenile began, he agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of battery and was sentenced to 18 months with credit for time served. The other five defendants agreed to plead guilty in 2009 to a charge of simple battery and were fined $500 each.

Donaldson’s directing credits include “No Way Out,” “Dante’s Peak,” “Cocktail,” “Species” and “Thirteen Days.”

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