Richard Burton in Talks About Playing Marcus Garvey

“We had Malcolm X and we had Martin Luther King Jr.,” says Burton, “but neither had the international impact generated by Marcus.”

Actor Richard Burton and writer Barry Beckham are partnering to have Richard Burton play Marcus Garvey in the film version of Beckham’s screenplay.

“Richard Burton and I agreed immediately that he would be a perfect Marcus Garvey with his great stage presence and energy,” says Beckham. “He will bring the Jamaican activist’s story to the screen in the manner that Garvey deserves.”

Beckham’s screenplay is based mostly on his 1972 play, which had its premiere at Brown University in 1972. As the first play ever created about Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican activist, it was shaped by Rights and Reason, the Ivy league’s first black theater group. No coscreener has been named.

“I’m excited about the special approach that Beckham’s script is taking. The world will finally know how Garvey became the most influential Black leader of all time. He combines raising racial pride with unique entrepreneurial efforts like laundries and restaurants, hotels, and a steamship line. Women represented more than half of his membership, and they encouraged the marketing of the country’s first black doll,” declares Burton.

“We had Malcolm X and we had Martin Luther King Jr.,” says Burton, “but neither had the international impact generated by Marcus. His United Negro Improvement Association had more than four million members from Harlem to Costa Rica.”

Burton himself has been an actor-activist. He played Shamrock, the energetic character in the acclaimed HBO series, The Wire. In 2002 He worked for Baltimore Mayor Walter O’Malley’s administration, becoming spokesman for the Baltimore Believe campaign, directed at reducing the city’s drug problem. Later he became coordinator of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods.

Burton’s trio appears internationally as a rap troupe. In 2021, his Jasper Street group won a Grammy nomination for best remix for their song “Praying for You.”

Beckham’s novels and nonfiction have been enthusiastically reviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and National Library Association. He has published shorter prose in Esquire, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, Black Enterprise, and the Crisis. He has won a National Endowment for the Humanities award and directed the Brown University graduate writing program where he taught for 18 years. His publishing company has released more than 80 titles of prose and poetry.

Beckham is an advisory board member of the Authors Guild.

Beckham and Burton co-authored a version of Burton’s memoir, “Ali and Me, Lessons that the Champ Gave Me.” Plans for a one-man dramatic show based on the memoir is set for 2022.