NEW YORK – Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who expertly adapted stories of historical Black characters in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” starring Will Smith and “Harriet” starring Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70.
Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a short illness, publicist Jeff Sanderson said.
Howard became the first black screenwriter to write a drama that grossed $100 million at the box office when Titans passed that milestone in 2000. It was about a real black coach who came to a newly segregated school in Virginia and helped lead their football team to victory. It had the iconic line, “I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”
Howard said he bought the story in Hollywood without success. So he took a chance and wrote the script himself. “They didn’t expect it to make a lot of money, but it turned out to be a monster that made $100 million,” he said. “He shaped my career,” he told the Times-Herald in Vallejo, California, in 2009. The film made the Associated Press list of the top 25 sports movies ever made.
Howard followed up Remember the Titans with Ali, the 2002 biopic about Muhammad Ali directed by Michael Mann. Smith rose to fame for his role as Ali and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019’s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Erivo led a cast that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.
“I got into this business to write about the complexities of the black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Harvey. I think it takes a black man to write about black men,” he told the Times-Herald.
Born in Virginia, his family moved frequently due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After earning a degree in American history from Princeton University, Howard worked briefly at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his mid-20s to pursue a career in writing.
He is a television writer and author of the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which focuses on three men in Los Angeles during the holiday season whose stories are connected and inform each other.
Howard also wrote The Harlem Renaissance, a limited series for HBO, Misty, the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland, and This Little Light, the story of Fannie Lou Hamer. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project Power to the People for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.
He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; two nieces and a nephew.
Mark Kennedy can be found at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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