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Penny MarshallA League Of Their Own director Penny Marshall is swinging at a baseball biopic about Effa Manley, the sports trailblazer who became the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I love this announcement for so many reasons. First, A League of Their Own is one of my favorite films (starring my first boss in LA, Geena Davis, along with Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks). Second, Marshall is a fantastic director who hasn’t made nearly enough movies. Third, she was diagnosed several years ago with a brain tumor and lung cancer so it’s good to know she’s regained her health and is feeling well enough to return to work.

The biopic focuses on Effa Manley who made history by rising in the ranks of the Negro National League in the 1930s and ’40s as a co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles, the team that went on to win the 1946 Negro World Series. The film will deal not only with issues of feminism and sexism in the ’30s and ’40s, but  also obviously issues of race.

“The story is a fascinating tale of a woman who broke through so many barriers and accomplished so much for the players and the game, during a time when the face of baseball changed forever,” said Marshall.

Manley was a fierce civil rights defender and fighter, participating in “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns, and advocating for better scheduling, pay, and accommodations for the entirety of the League. The Eagles supported and fundraised tirelessly for the Newark community, and helped to open the Booker T. Washington Community Hospital, Elks lodges, and student camps. Basically, not only was she breaking down gender barriers by being a female team owner, she was also breaking race barriers.

In 2006 Manley was the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! That’s right – There were no women in the Baseball Hall of Fame until 2006.

Marshall is no stranger to baseball. She directed 1992’s A League Of Their Own, about the struggle to establish America’s first female baseball teams during WWII. Effa has the potential to be much more dramatic than that 1992 film though, though it could almost act as an unofficial prequel since it harkens to a brief moment in League when a stray ball lands in front of an unnamed African-American woman who hurls it back, a reminder that the era was even more marginalizing at the time for black women in baseball.

Effa will mark Marshall’s first feature as a director since 2001’s Riding In Cars With Boys.

Studioplex City President Jake Shapiro announced the project and two-pic deal with Marshall.

“Penny Marshall has directed some of the greatest stories ever told for the big screen,” said Shapiro. “Films such as Big and A League Of Their Own transcend time, generations and global boundaries. The film is about a strong woman who was ahead of her time, the history of baseball and the Negro Leagues.”

Marshall, who grew up in the Bronx watching the Yankees with her older brother Garry Marshall (a writer, producer and director best known for “Happy Days and ” Mork & Mindy”)  is an avid collector of sports memorabilia who has quite an extensive collection of baseballs, footballs and basketballs autographed by top athletes.

While many know Marshall more for her role as Laverne in the TV classic “Laverne and Shirley,”  she was the first female to direct a movie that grossed over 100 million dollars in the US, with Big (1988). And the first female director with two movies that grossed over 100 million, with A League of Their Own .

Marshall will start shooting Effa in Savannah, Georgia in early 2015 with a script by first-timer Byron Motley. Could this be an Oscar contender next year?

December 12, 2014
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