Movie Club Weekly – American Film Institute


August 10, 2020

RAY

(2004)

 

RAY was written by James L. White and became the first African American biopic ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards®. White got his start in the industry when AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Sidney Poitier hired him to pen the screenplay for the thriller RED MONEY.

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FROM THE AFI ARCHIVE

Taylor Hackford on RAY

In RAY, Jamie Foxx played all of the piano scenes throughout the film, but he made no attempt to reproduce Ray Charles’s distinctive voice. Instead, all of the singing vocals in the movie were from recordings of Charles himself.

It was after seeing Jamie Foxx’s performance in Michael Mann’s ALI that director Taylor Hackford began to consider him seriously for RAY, which he’d been trying to get made for 15 years.

To prepare for the role of Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx studied Braille and lost 35 pounds to reflect Charles’ slender build. He also wore prosthetic eye pieces that rendered him sightless 12 hours a day.

The eldest son of Ray Charles – Ray Charles Robinson Jr. – served as a co-producer on RAY. He was the one who first approached Taylor Hackford about doing a film about his father.

Ray Charles was presented with a first cut of the film before he passed away of liver failure in 2004.

After every studio in Hollywood turned down the chance to make RAY, Taylor Hackford secured financing from billionaire investor and Ray Charles fan Philip Anschutz. Anschutz agreed to contribute $3 million out of his own pocket to develop the project and then put up the entire $35 million when no studio would share the production costs.

Universal, who came on board to distribute the film once it was complete, convinced the movie’s producers to change the title from UNCHAIN MY HEART to RAY.

RAY’s screenwriter James L. White felt an affinity for Ray Charles as the two men had very similar backgrounds. Both were African American men who grew up in the Jim Crow South and endured segregation, and both at one point in their lives were heroin addicts.

Kerry Washington, who stars as Della Bea Robinson in RAY, reteamed with Jamie Foxx in 2012 to play his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft, in Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

RAY was nominated for six Academy Awards® and won two for Best Actor for Jamie Foxx as well as Best Sound Mixing.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits. Engage with your family, friends and others like you who love the movies. Check out the AFI Movie Club Discussion Questions for this movie and post your responses in the comment section!

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