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Tiffany Haddish as Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner? Biopic casting divides fans

A woman posing in a light pink gown
Comedian Tiffany Haddish has been cast as Olympic runner Florence Griffith Joyner in an upcoming biopic.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A forthcoming biopic about Olympic track-and-field legend Florence Griffith Joyner starring comedian Tiffany Haddish is officially off and running.

But not everyone is on board with Hollywood’s approach to the late athlete’s legacy.

A representative for Haddish confirmed Friday to The Times that the “Girls Trip” breakout is set to produce and star in a film exploring the life and career of Joyner, referred to fondly by fans as “Flo-Jo.”

At the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, Flo-Jo was a standout member of the United States track-and-field team, shattering records while raking in several gold and silver medals across the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4x400-meter and 4x100-meter events. In 1998, she died in her sleep after suffocating due to an epileptic seizure.

“I am looking forward to telling Flo-Jo’s story the way it should be told,” Haddish said in a statement. “My goal with this film is making sure that younger generations know my ‘she-ro’ Flo-Jo, the fastest woman in the world to this day, existed.”

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Tiffany Haddish got emotional when she learned, while hosting a TV segment with kids, that she’d won the Grammy for comedy album.

The narrative feature will anchor a larger content package developed by Haddish and studio game1 that will include a tandem documentary series and podcast.

Also on the production team for the project is Flo-Jo’s husband and former coach, Al Joyner, with whom Haddish has been training in preparation for the role. According to the casting announcement, Haddish has adopted a workout regimen similar to Flo-Jo’s while immersing herself in the character.

“Working with Tiffany has been a great pleasure — she is incredibly dedicated, focused, and committed to portraying the spirit of Florence accurately, whose legacy of making a difference in the world will live on for generations to come,” Joyner said in a statement.

“I hope that this film touches all who see it and inspires people to BE the change the world so desperately needs right now!”

On Thursday, Variety broke the news of Haddish’s casting, which instantly divided social media. While several fans praised the Grammy winner as “perfect” for the part, others worried the comedy star wouldn’t be able to do the Olympic icon’s trailblazing journey “justice.”

Thus far, Haddish has made a name for herself on the big screen via comedies such as “Girls Trip,” “Night School” and “Like a Boss.” The upcoming Flo-Jo biopic will mark her most high-profile dramatic turn to date.

“I hope she understands the assignment… because if she don’t…. Whew,” tweeted one person.

“My heart is full FOR you @TiffanyHaddish,” another replied to a tweet from Haddish vowing to honor Flo-Jo’s legacy. “How exciting and what an honor. You’re definitely reaping what you sow. I’m so ready to see this haha.”

In response to someone else who hailed Flo-Jo as their “idol” and pleaded with the actor not to “mess this up,” Haddish tweeted, “If I mess this up I will kick my own ass.”

A few pitched their own casting suggestions in lieu of Haddish. Among the frontrunners was “A Black Lady Sketch Show” creator and star Robin Thede, considered by many to possess the look and acting chops necessary to step into Flo-Jo’s signature one-legged tracksuits.

Regardless of Haddish’s past credits, others opposed the casting choice because of controversial remarks Haddish made last month about recent violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

According to accounts from Tigrayan survivors, government forces massacred more than 160 people earlier this year as part of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s months-long, deadly attack on the Tigray region, which began after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, targeted a government military base.

Since November, people in Tigray have been subjected to “extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, looting of property, mass executions and impeded humanitarian access,” the United Nations’ special advisor on the prevention of genocide said in a statement.

And U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that government forces — comprising the Ethiopian army, soldiers from neighboring Eritrea and state-sponsored militiamen from the Amhara region — had committed acts of “ethnic cleansing.”

Residents of the town of Bora, in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, tell of a horrific massacre of local men and boys by Ethiopian soldiers.

Haddish, who is of Eritrean descent, drew sharp criticism last week for asking where “the bodies” are during a Clubhouse conversation regarding the events in Tigray, adding “but there’s a whole bunch of Eritrean bodies though. We see those.”

“A full blown genocide denier shouldnt have the license to play such an important figure,” one person tweeted Tuesday. "[Game1] should seriously reconsider in light of Tiffany’s recent comments on the #TigrayGenocide.”

“This is storytelling at its best – a global superstar portraying and honoring another global superstar,” said game1 co-CEO Greg Economou in a statement.


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