EXCLUSIVE: A remarkable, little known slice of Black American history is coming to light with Boley, an premium event series in development at Universal Television from writer Dianne Houston (When We Rise, Empire, Take the Lead) and producer Rudy Langlais (The Hurricane, Sugar Hill).
Hailed as “television’s first premium Black western,” Boley is inspired by the e true story of an early 20th century black utopia, Boley, Oklahoma, which was established in 1904 as one of the largest and most thriving black towns in the country.
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In 1930s Oklahoma, a group of proud Black citizens and businessmen took up arms against notorious gangster Pretty Boy Floyd and his band of outlaws to defend their community. Boley was a bourgeoning, prosperous town in the middle of the American Depression and its citizens were determined to protect what they had built. They were successful.
The rich legacy of this revolutionary all-Black town and this infamous battle as the backdrop for the limited series, which has been a passion project for Langlais and Universal TV President Pearlena Igbokwe for two decades.
They first started talking about a Boley TV project when she was a development executive at Showtime. Langlais and Igbokwe developed a script which didn’t get made but the duo never lost their enthusiasm for the story. In the past few years, they renewed their efforts, launching a search for a writer to tell the story that led to bringing in Houston. She has been commissioned by Universal TV to write the script, which will then be taken out to cable and streaming networks. Houston and Langlais are executive producing.
“Boley was one of those mythic places, like Camelot, that I heard fleeting but exciting tales about,” Langlais said. “They described a place impossible to believe was real…in the middle of Oklahoma…mentioned Nikolai Tesla…and Pretty Boy Floyd…and a shoot-out during a bank robbery…all in the same breath. So when Pearlena called 20 years ago and asked if I was interested in telling this story, I was ready to jump on a train to find this mythic place. However long it took.”
Langlais and Igbokwe successfully told another important story together with the 2000 Showtime TV movie Who Killed Atlanta’s Children?, which Langlais produced. Nineteen years later, they are re-teaming for Boley.
“Rudy Langlais and I have been trying to tell this story for a long time,,” Igbokwe: said. ” It is yet another piece of American history that has been overlooked. The showdown in Boley Oklahoma is incredibly emotional and incredibly cinematic.”
The town of Boley, once described by Booker T. Washington as “the finest black town in the world,” had a thriving economy and residents who would do anything to defend their beloved town. On November 23, 1932, three members of Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s gang tried to rob the town’s Farmers and Merchants Bank, the state’s first nationally chartered black-owned bank. When all was said and done, the bank’s president and two of the bank robbers had been killed, one by a bank bookkeeper and the other by townspeople who grabbed their guns and opened fire as the robbers tried to flee. All the money was recovered.
Houston has served as a writer, supervising producer and director on Fox‘ Empire and wrote for the ABC limited series When We Rise. In features, she recently co-wrote the upcoming movie Seacole starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Worthington.