EXCLUSIVE: A remarkable and little-known slice of black American history comes to light with Boley, a series of premium events in development at Universal Television from writer Dianne Houston (When we rise, Empire, let’s take the lead) and producer Rudy Langlais (Hurricane, Sugar Hill).
Hailed as “television’s first premium black western”, Boley is inspired by the true story of an early 20th century black utopia, Boley, Oklahoma, which was established in 1904 as one of the nation’s largest and most prosperous black towns.
In 1930s Oklahoma, a group of proud black citizens and businessmen took up arms against notorious gangster Pretty Boy Floyd and his gang of outlaws to defend their community. Boley was a prosperous and thriving city in the midst of the American Depression and its citizens were determined to protect what they had built. They succeeded.
The rich legacy of this all-black revolutionary city and this infamous battle as the backdrop for the limited series, which has been a passionate project for Langlais and Universal TV President Pearlena Igbokwe for two decades.
They started talking about a Boley TV project when she was Head of Development at Showtime. Langlais and Igbokwe developed a screenplay that went unrealized but the duo never lost their enthusiasm for the story. In recent years, they have renewed their efforts, initiating a search for a writer to tell the story that led to the coming of Houston. She was commissioned by Universal TV to write the screenplay, which will then be broadcast on cable and streaming networks. Houston and Langlais are executive producers.
âBoley was one of those mythical places, like Camelot, that I heard fleeting but thrilling stories from,â Langlais said. âThey described an unbelievably real placeâ¦ in the middle of Oklahomaâ¦ mentioned Nikolai Teslaâ¦ and Pretty Boy Floydâ¦ and a bank robbery shootoutâ¦ all in one breath. So when Pearlena called 20 years ago and asked if I was interested in telling this story, I was ready to hop on a train to find this mythical place. However long it took.
Langlais and Igbokwe successfully told another big story with the Showtime 2000 TV movie Who killed the children of Atlanta?, which Langlais produced. Nineteen years later, they re-teamed for Boley.
âRudy Langlais and I have been trying to tell this story for a long time,â Igbokwe said. âThis is yet another piece of American history that has been overlooked. The confrontation in Boley Oklahoma is incredibly emotional and incredibly cinematic. “
The town of Boley, once described by Booker T. Washington as “the most beautiful black city in the world,” had a thriving economy and people who would do anything to defend their beloved city. On November 23, 1932, three members of Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s gang attempted to rob the town’s Farmers and Merchants Bank, the state’s first nationally chartered black-owned bank. In the end, the president of the bank and two of the bank robbers were killed, one by a bank accountant and the other by townspeople who grabbed their guns and opened the fire as the robbers tried to escape. All the money has been recovered.
Houston has been a screenwriter, supervising producer and director on Fox‘Empire and written for the ABC limited series When we get up. In feature films, she recently co-wrote the upcoming film Seacole with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Worthington.