EXCLUSIVE: Vanessa Williams’ personal story about the scandal that forced her to resign her Miss America crown in 1984 is getting a small screen treatment. Sony Pictures Television has optioned rights to her story to develop as a limited series, with veteran Neil Meron executive producing.
Williams made history in 1983 by becoming the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America. Weeks before completing her reign, she was forced to resign her title under pressure from the organization when controversy ensued after nude photos of her taken prior to her Miss America win were published without her consent in Penthouse magazine.
Faced with adversity at the start of her career, Williams was able to overcome the scandal and become an award-winning actor and singer in one of entertainment industry’s most remarkable comeback stories.
Zadan/Meron Productions’ Meron and Mark Nicholson will executive produce with Stephen Roseberry and Jon Carrasco of Encore Endeavor 1 (EE1), a wholly owned subsidiary of kathy ireland Worldwide. Top Hollywood attorney Martin Singer, who has repped kiWW for years and was instrumental in making the project come together, also will serve as executive producer, with Steve Glick, EVP Content and Broadcasting for EE1, serving as producer. Williams has been a client of SWC (Sterling Winters Company), a wholly owned subsidiary of kathy ireland Worldwide, for a long time and has collaborated with kiWW in different areas.
“This project is incredibly personal to me,” said Williams. “There are so many inaccurate and untrue accounts of the events surrounding this period in my life, and as a mother, and as a Black woman, it is important to me that my truth be told and be documented from my perspective. This is not just a story about racy photos, it is about misogyny and racism, and I want to shine a light on that for future generations. I was not only able to survive what could have been a career-ending scandal but rose above it and have achieved a body of work I am extremely proud of. I look forward to continuing my long relationships with Sony, Neil Meron and Mark Nicholson, and working closely with my partners Kathy Ireland, Stephen Roseberry, Jon Carrasco and Steve Glick to bring this story to the screen.”
Williams, a three-time Emmy nominee for supporting actress for her work on Ugly Betty, also has received 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, three SAG Award nominations and seven NAACP Image Awards. The Desperate Housewives alumna recently completed a praised run in the new Broadway comedy POTUS and has completed filming the second season of RuPaul’s Paramount+ reality competition Queen of the Universe, where she serves as a judge. Her platinum single, “Colors of the Wind,” from Disney’s Pocahontas, won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Song and the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media, and she is preparing to record a new album.
“I am so grateful that Vanessa has entrusted Mark Nicholson and I to share her remarkable story of breaking barriers,” Meron said. “She faced a culture of discrimination and hate yet her indomitable integrity guided her to the many triumphs she has had during her remarkable career. She is a testament to living her truth and a role model for everyone. We’re thrilled to be working with Vanessa, as well as Kathy Ireland’s impressive executive team at EE1/kiWW, Stephen Roseberry, Jon Carrasco and Steve Glick.”
Williams has opened up in the past about the traumatic Penthouse scandal experience, which she also recounted in an Oprah’s Master Class interview. (You can watch it below.)
“Vanessa Williams is an extraordinary artist, and a great inspiration for women and girls to dream their own dreams … and live them,” said Ireland, co-founder of EE1 and founder, chair and CEO of kathy ireland Worldwide. “Vanessa morphed from a vulnerable, genius young talent to become one of the world’s most beloved pop culture icons and successful multi-hyphenates in acting, music, dance, and production. Vanessa brings courage to Broadway stages, films, recordings and television in her endless fight against bigotry of all sorts. Vanessa is bold, brave and brilliant.”
News of the Williams’ Penthouse limited series comes on the heels of the success of another limited series about celebrities grappling with intimate private materials being made public without their consent, Hulu’s Pam & Tommy.
“It’s been almost 40 years since Vanessa was crowned Miss America — the first African American woman to win the crown in the pageant’s history,” said Carrasco and Roseberry, creative director of EE1 and kiWW and president/CMO of EE1 and kiWW, respectively. “Her historic win, unfortunately, was marred by the greed of people who didn’t care about the consequences of their actions on the lives of Vanessa, her family and our country. We are looking forward to working with Vanessa, Neil, Mark and Sony in bringing this inspiring story about heroism and determination to the screen.”
Williams is repped by Glick, SWC, UTA and Lavely & Singer.
Article writtten by Nellie Andreeva // Deadline