Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker will play legendary African-American crime lord Ellsworth (Bumpy) Johnson in an upcoming cable television series chronicling Johnson’s final years reigning over New York’s black underworld in the 1960s called The Godfather of Harlem. Part of the storyline will involve Johnson getting into a feud with the Genovese crime family of New York’s Italian mafia. Another part will explore his relationship with black revolutionary Malcom X.

Whitaker snagged the 2006 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of African dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. More recently, he co-starred in the 2018 superhero smash Black Panther.

Created by Johnson historian Scott Brancato, hot off of making Netflix’s acclaimed NarcosThe Godfather of Harlem starts shooting this month and will air next year on the Epix premium-cable network. Vincent D’Onofrio (Men In Black, To Kill The Irishman) has been tapped to play Genovese mobster Vincent (The Chin) Gigante, the historic don who was an up-and-coming captain based in Greenwich Village at the time the show takes place.

Bumpy Johnson

Brancato penned the 1997 movie, Hoodlum, which starred Laurence Fishburne as Bumpy Johnson in his early days fighting the Dutch Schultz mob for control of the Harlem numbers racket. Johnson is by far the most represented real-life black crime boss in pop culture fare of the last half-century. Fishburne has played Bumpy twice, first coming in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film The Cotton Club. Characters based on Bumpy have popped up in everything from James Bond films to alongside Clint Eastwood in Escape From Alcatraz to HBO’s heavily-lauded Boardwalk Empire. Clarence Williams played Bumpy in a cameo performance at the beginning of the movie American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington as Bumpy’s former driver and bodyguard, 1970s Harlem heroin don Frank Lucas.

Johnson, who cut a dashing figure in both gangland and more high-society circles, ran gambling, loansharking, extortion and narcotics rackets in Harlem for almost 40 years. He died of a sudden heart attack in 1968 at the age of 62.

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