Feature film to shine spotlight on racism surrounding British fighter Len Johnson
MindsEye has signalled its move into feature films with the announcement of Champion, which charts the true story of black British boxing sensation Len Johnson, whose destiny to become British Champion was blocked by the boxing authorities simply because of his race but which ultimately led him to an even greater triumph.
Universal, timeless and contemporary in its themes, this bittersweet story is as relevant today as it has ever been.
Guy East (Rush, Sliding Doors, The Woman in Black, The Ides of March) is on board to executive produce the film.
Award-winning playwright Winsome Pinnock is writing the screenplay, inspired by the book ‘Boxing’s Uncrowned Champion – Len Johnson and the Colour Bar’, written by Rob Howard.
Born and bred in Manchester, Len Johnson overcame extreme adversity to become one of the top middleweight boxers of the 1920s and 30s, winning a staggering 93 fights across his boxing career.
A local hero and respected by his fellow fighters, Johnson, who was mixed race, was cruelly denied his dream of ever becoming British Champion because of the government-backed ‘colour bar’, which stated that only fighters born of white parents could claim Championship status.
Johnson fought tirelessly against this injustice both inside the ring by beating all the champions of the day, and outside it through his relentless anti-racism campaigning against the British Boxing Board of Control.
By his side throughout his career was his white Irish wife Annie, whose tenacity, along with their deep love for one another, aided this courageous fight.
Len never received the recognition he truly deserved, but ultimately his determined activism led to the ‘colour bar’ being overturned and that forged the path for the success of all future black British boxing champions. Champion will tell a bittersweet yet uplifting story of triumph over tragedy.
Last year, a petition was launched to have Johnson commemorated with a statue in his home city of Manchester, a campaign supported by boxers Anthony Joshua and Ricky Hatton and the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.
Hughie Phillips, MindsEye co-founder and CEO says “We are delighted to be partnering up with Guy East and Winsome Pinnock to bring Len Johnson’s timely, and until now virtually unknown story to screen. Len Johnson was a man born ahead of his time, whose dignity and resilience saw him overcoming the odds in the most courageous of ways. Len leaves with us a victorious and crucial legacy, and one we cannot wait to share with audiences around the world, finally giving Len the recognition he deserves.”
MindsEye, an award-winning commercials production company which has been running since 2011, set up its Film and TV division in 2019, bringing in producer Katie Mavroleon (David Brent: Life on the Road), as Head of Development. Champion is one of a number of productions the company is progressing.
Champion is a MindsEye production, written by Winsome Pinnock, inspired by Rob Howard’s book ‘Boxing’s Uncrowned Champion – Len Johnson and the Colour Bar’. Executive Producer is Guy East, and the film is being produced by Hughie Phillips and Katie Mavroleon.