Who should play Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry? Photograph by Christopher Leaman.
News emerged last night that HBO and Spike Lee are working on a biopic about Washington’s mayor for life, Marion Barry. The production will apparently be based on Dream City, a 1994 book about Barry’s tenure by The Washingtonian’s Harry Jaffe and NBC’s Tom Sherwood, with Jaffe and Sherwood serving as script consultants and actor Eddie Murphy playing the central character. Barry is a complex character, and we’re not convinced the actor who brought us the Nutty Professor and Donkey from Shrek has the range to do an accurate Barry portrayal. Denzel Washington might be the obvious choice, but frankly, we’re not even sure he’s up to the task, so here are ten actors we think could tackle different facets of Barry’s extremely diverse persona.
Forest Whitaker: He nailed his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, so he’s got the chops to play a power-crazed autocrat—toning it down for Barry wouldn’t be too tough for the Oscar winner.
Jay Pharoah: In terms of local talent, Pharoah, a Virginia native and Saturday Night Live cast member, is a great choice. Plus, his spot-on impressions of Jay-Z and Denzel make us think he can expand his range to Barry without too much trouble.
Jamie Foxx: If HBO wanted to turn this project into a musical, there’s no better choice than Foxx, who has the voice to carry a movie, the acting chops to play incredulous when he’s arrested, and ’tude enough to give the mayor for life himself a run for his money.
Isiah Whitlock Jr.: Whitlock’s portrayal of corrupt politican Clay Davis on The Wire hit a little too close to home. Who could watch Davis’s victory speech after having just beaten a corruption charge and not think of Barry?
Sean Combs: Diddy has Barry’s swagger, and his route through hip-hop was similar to Barry’s through politics: gather a huge base of followers with some impressive early work, rise to the top, and then become mainly a figurehead with a loyal following.
Wayne Brady: If we’re turning this into a comedy (and let’s be honest, it easily could be one), Brady proved he could play street on Chappelle’s Show. But even with his improv skills, would he be able to dream up something better than “B^&*h set me up?”
Danny Glover: Who wouldn’t love to see Roger Murtaugh as Barry? Glover’s also a political activist, so he and Barry have some shared interests.
LeVar Burton: Every Thanksgiving, Barry hands out turkeys in his ward. Who better than the warmhearted Burton, who taught us all the joy of books in Reading Rainbow, to play a benevolent Barry?
Ving Rhames: Should HBO choose to focus on the hostage situation Barry endured in 1977 (when he was shot by radical Muslims in the District Building), Rhames’s Pulp Fiction and Mission Impossible credentials would certainly spice up the action.
Samuel L. Jackson: Sammy J has Barry’s checkered past with cocaine, a cool factor that can’t be denied, and a history of working with Spike Lee. Plus, we’d pay very good money to see Marion Barry in a kilt.
What do you think? Let us know in comments.