A Marvin Gaye musical biopic with the full backing of Motown is in the works

21 June 2021, 10:29 | Updated: 11 October 2023, 13:57

Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Warner Bros has announced it has bought the rights to an upcoming Marvin Gaye biopic titled What’s Going On, to be directed by Allen Hughes.

Allen Hughes, best known for directing films such as Menace II Society and Dead Presidents with his brother Albert, will also produce the film alongside rapper and music producer Dr Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Andrew Lazar.

“This is so personal for me,” Hughes told Deadline. “When I made my first film with my brother, we were fortunate to get ‘What’s Going On’ into the trailer for Menace II Society, and it was a game changer in elevating the marketing of that film.

“Every film of mine but the period film From Hell had some Marvin Gaye in it, and I’ve just always connected to him. He’s the artist’s artist, with this ethereal voice that just comes out of the heavens. There have been plenty of great artists, and then Marvin, in his own lane.

“When you listen, in one measure you feel like you’ve read a novel. Such a rich inner life in that voice, heavenly but riddled with pain, the agony and ecstasy at the same time.

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"When he gained his independence in the ’70s, with that album ‘What’s Going On’, then ‘Trouble Man’ and ‘Let’s Get It On’, ‘I Want You’ and his final masterpiece ‘Here, My Dear’, when it comes to vocal orchestrations and the way he layered his voice, he’s Mozart.”

Over the years, there have been various attempts by different filmmakers to direct a Marvin Gaye film, but they have all fallen through until now.

Hughes will work with Gaye’s estate and Motown on the project, so it will have the rights to use all of the iconic singer’s signature songs.

“You’ve heard of all these big-name directors that have tried for 35 years to consolidate these rights,” Hughes continued.

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“This started with Dre, saying, ‘Let’s do this together,’ and then Jimmy came on, and Andrew Lazar, and we worked with the estate, with Motown and some other things that needed to be tied down, and we got it done.”

Written by poet Marcus Gardley, the film is described as a "musical odyssey" focusing on “the life of one of America’s greatest singers and musicians”.

The film will feature the story of his past with events that helped shape his legendary final tour. It will also feature the tumultuous relationship Gaye had with his father - who eventually shot and killed his famous son - and will celebrate the life of the women who influenced Gaye’s career, and inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time.

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