Fresh off her recent Emmy win for the comedy series “Hacks,” Jean Smart is ramping up development at her production company, SmartAngel Entertainment. Smart and her producing partner, Angeliki Giannakopoulos, have acquired the rights to the real-life stories of two individuals who challenged the status quo and took a stand to make a difference for marginalized voices.
Projects in development at SmartAngel include the true stories of John Hawkins, an Ole Miss college student who in 1981 refused to carry the Confederate flag; and country music artist, author and LGBTQ activist Chely Wright.
In 1981, Hawkins was at the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) under a band scholarship. He became the first Black cheerleader to join the Ole Miss Varsity Cheerleader Squad. When asked by a reporter if he was willing to carry the Confederate flag on game days, he said no — which led to racial abuse and threats. Hawkins’ story resurfaced in 2020, when the Mississippi legislature voted on whether to replace the controversial state flag.
“We spent months trying to track down Mr. Hawkins, now a successful businessman, and have him trust us enough to tell his life story,” Giannakopoulos said. “This is not just part of American history, but it’s also about finding the hero in each one of us when we don’t even think we matter.”
Added Smart: “Without thinking, John Hawkins answered a simple direct question and set in motion an historical firestorm that raged for 40 years.”
As for Wright, who rose to fame in the 1990s, she became one of the first commercial country stars to publicly come out as gay. Wright has had more than 15 singles on the Billboard charts, including the hit “Single White Female,” and is also known for her LGBTQ activism.
“We were just grabbed by the story of a little girl who made a silent pact with God to hide her secret and make her dream come true to sing at the Grand Ole Opry,” Smart said. “Later, as a beautiful woman with seemingly the world at her feet and her fantasy realized, she made the devastating decision to let it all come crashing down in order to save her life.”
Giannakopoulos said she sees the project as a musical, “and Chely is such an amazing song writer. I think we have something very special here.”
SmartAngel Entertainment is currently partnered with DiNovi Pictures on the feature “Miss Macy,” which they sold to Amblin Partners with Tate Taylor (“The Help”) attached to direct. The project, which stars Smart in the title role, is based on another true story of Tricia Mitchell Coburn, who recounted for the public radio show “The Moth” her experience in an Alabama charm school in the 1960s. Smart will star as Olma Macy Harwell, the owner of the institution in the title. Beth Henley is writing the script.
Giannakopoulos’ credits include “My Child-Mothers of War” and “A Beautiful Day,” while Smart just won the comedy actress Emmy for “Hacks” and was also nominated this year for “Mare of Easttown.” Her other recent credits include “Watchmen” and “Superintelligence”; she just wrapped filming the upcoming feature “Babylon,” from director Damien Chazelle, and she’s now in production on the film “Wildflower.”
Smart and Giannakopoulos are both represented by Untitled Entertainment. Jean Smart is also represented by WME.