EXCLUSIVE: Moonlight and Native Son star Ashton Sanders has secured the film and television rights to Peter Nelson’s non-fiction novel, A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighter’s Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home.
Sanders will produce the adaptation under his 1237 Production banner. Published in 2009, A More Unbending Battle details the little-known story of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the first African-American regiment mustered to fight in World War I in the face of discrimination both at home and abroad, defending a nation that refused them basic human rights.
Despite extraordinary odds, this rag-tag group, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, became one of the most successful regiments of the war, spending longer than any other American regiment in combat and becoming the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine. The regiment never lost a foot of ground nor a prisoner in 191 days of combat. 170 soldiers in the 369th Infantry were awarded the Croix de Guerre — a military distinction of France — for their efforts fighting alongside the French.
Sanders is also expected to star in the adaptation in the role of Henry Johnson, the most celebrated member of the group. While on watch in the Argonne Forest, Johnson received 21 wounds as he fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat after his gun malfunctioned, killing multiple German combatants and rescuing a fellow soldier, Needham Roberts. In a posthumous ceremony at the White House, Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2015.
“Since the moment I discovered this incredibly rich piece of history documenting the Harlem Hellfighters, I have wanted to bring the stories of these courageous and inspiring men to life,” said Sanders. “In addition to the war, some of the most moving chapters are about the politics involved in the recruitment of these men as well as their reassimilation into society after the war.”
In addition to A More Unbending Battle, Sanders is also producing Feather, alongside Oscar-nominated producer Todd Black, Tony Shaw, and Logan Coles. Adapted by Randy McKinnon, the script is based on Coretta Scott King’s novel, The First Part Last.
Sanders, who is repped by Hyperion and Felker Toczek Suddleson Abramson, was last seen starring opposite Jeffrey Wright in the Netflix drama, All Day & A Night. His upcoming projects include Warner Bros’ Judas and the Black Messiah with Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, the Rupert Sanders-directed war drama The Things They Carried, alongside Tom Hardy, Tye Sheridan, and Stephan James, and the second season of Hulu series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga.