EXCLUSIVE: Producer and indie filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez has optioned the film and TV rights to Karl Jacoby’s book The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire. Rodriguez is set to develop and produce the narrative-based project
Jacoby’s prize-winning book tells the true story of William Ellis, a larger-than-life figure who was born on the U.S.-Mexico border in the twilight of slavery and inhabited a world divided along ambiguous racial lines. Adopting the name Guillermo Eliseo, he passed as Mexican, transcending racial lines to become fabulously wealthy as a Wall Street banker, diplomat, and owner of scores of mines and haciendas south of the border. In The Strange Career of William Ellis, Columbia University historian Jacoby weaves an astonishing tale of cunning, scandal, self-invention and the abiding riddle of race in America.
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“Karl Jacoby’s stranger-than-fiction historical biography unfolds the private life and social world of a bold, but enigmatic figure who flitted in and out of an astonishing array of his era’s most noteworthy events,” said Rodriguez. “His journey will resonate in today’s climate in which we are again rewriting the rules of race and identity.”
Rodriguez is best known for his documentaries that explore a wide range of subjects including history, biography, art, politics, urbanism and race. He most recently directed The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo which follows the life of Chicano icon, Oscar Zeta Acosta who was the basis for the character Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film adaptation of Thompson’s book starred Benicio Del Toro, who served as executive producer of Rodriguez’s documentary.