Known for high quality, critically-acclaimed original movies, Lifetime extends their partnership with trusted journalist Robin Roberts for four new movies under the Robin Roberts Presents banner. On the heels of the highly successful movie, The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel which was seen by over 13 million viewers, the network greenlights their next foray into the gospel music world with the biopic Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story. Reuniting with Tony® Award-winning director Kenny Leon who helmed Lifetime’s all-African American remake of Steel Magnolias, Tony Award nominee, SAG and Grammy Award winning actress Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) will star as gospel legend and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson. This also marks as a reunion for Leon and Brooks who worked together on the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.
“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on Steel Magnolias and Robin Roberts on Stolen by my Mother, I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, EVP of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions, Lifetime and LMN. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”
Born in New Orleans, Mahalia began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement. Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform at diverse settings including in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality. From Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions, The Mahalia Jackson Story is executive produced by Robin Roberts and Linda Berman.
Kenny Leon is a Tony® Award and Obie Award-winning and Emmy®-nominated Broadway and television director. Most recently, he directed the Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, A Soldier’s Play. He also directed The Underlying Chris at Second Stage Theatre Company and this past summer’s acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park. His other Broadway titles include: American Son; Children of a Lesser God; Holler If Ya Hear Me; A Raisin in the Sun (Tony® Award; 2014); The Mountaintop; Stick Fly; August Wilson’s Fences; Gem of the Ocean; and Radio Golf. Leon has also directed for projects off-Broadway comprising of Everybody’s Ruby, Emergence-See! (The Public), Smart People (Second Stage). His work in television includes American Son (adapted for Netflix for which he just earned an Emmy® nomination), Hairspray Live!, The Wiz Live!, Steel Magnolias, Dynasty, In My Dreams. He is the author of Take You Wherever You Go and is the former artistic director of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company.
Danielle Brooks is best known for her role as “Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson” in the Netflix Emmy®-nominated series, Orange is the New Black. For her performance, Brooks received two NAACP Image Award nominations for “Best Actress in a Comedy Series” and was also the recipient of the Young Hollywood Award for “Breakthrough Actress.”
On stage, Brooks starred as “Beatrice” in The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Kenny Leon. For her performance, she received the AUDELCO Award for “Lead Actress in a Musical”, the ANTONYO Award for “Best Actor in a Play, Off-Broadway” and received a Drama League Award “Distinguished Performance” Nomination. Brooks made her Broadway debut in the Tony winning revival of The Color Purple. For her performance, she was nominated for a Tony® Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and received a Grammy® Award as well as a Theatre World Award for “Significant Broadway Debut.”
Recent feature work includes a leading role opposite Anna Kendrick in Chris Morris’ feature film, The Day Shall Come, the feature film Clemency opposite Alfre Woodard, Wendell Pierce and Aldis Hodge which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, a recurring role on Aziz Ansari’s Emmy Award winning, Netflix comedy series, Master of None and guest lead roles on HBO’s High Maintenance and Girls. Brooks’ voice work includes Sony’s animated feature Angry Birds and HBO Max’s Close Enough. Brooks released her four track EP entitled FOUR. Brooks co-wrote the four songs, which includes “Seasons” that is featured in the series finale of Orange is the New Black.
Brooks was the face of Christian Siriano’s debut Spring capsule collection for Lane Bryant and was the face of Lane Bryant’s Fall Campaign that same year. Brooks was one of the faces of Lane Bryant’s “I’m No Angel” Campaign alongside Ashley Graham and released a clothing line with Universal Standard. Most recently, Brooks teamed up with the newly relaunched plus size fashion retailer Fashion to Figure as their first ever Brand Ambassador as part of their #InclusionRevoultion campaign. Brooks grew up in South Carolina and is a graduate of The Juilliard School.