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Madonna to direct film on Sierra Leone dancer

March 14, 2018

War orphan Michaela DePrince defied all odds and became a successful professional ballerina. She will be the focus of a new biopic based on her autobiography, "Taking Flight." The film is to be directed by Madonna.

Michaela DePrince
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/D. Farrell

Pop superstar Madonna announced on Tuesday that she will be directing a biopic about professional ballerina Michaela DePrince.

The film will be an adaptation of "Taking Flight," DePrince's autobiography published in 2014. The story traces the unusual life of one of the world's only Black women to have found success in the world of ballet.

DePrince, an orphan of the civil war in Sierra Leone, was later abandoned by her uncle and neglected in an orphanage as she suffered from vitiligo, a disorder that causes skin to lose its pigment in patches.

Book cover of Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince
The screenplay will be adapted from DePrince's autobiographyImage: Knopf Books for Young Readers

As a four-year-old at the orphanage, she saw a photograph in a magazine of a ballerina en pointe, an image that would inspire her throughout her life. "It inspired me to be something, to live for something. It gave me life again," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Read more: Why I volunteer: Russian ballerina dances for refugees

After being adopted by an American family and moving with them to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the young girl took up dance lessons. Although teachers had warned her mother that it would be difficult for a Black girl to become a ballerina, DePrince was awarded a scholarship to the American Ballet Theater's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet.

In 2011, she starred in the documentary "First Position," and in 2016, she performed in Beyonce's "Lemonade." Currently a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet, DePrince has performed in the US, South Africa and the Netherlands.

Read more:Marriage gone sour? Beyonce's 'Lemonade' stirs up divorce speculations

A deeply resonant story

In announcing her plans for the film, Madonna wrote, "Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity. … We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside. I am honored to bring her story to life."

Read more: Madonna in Malawi to open children's hospital ward

Madonna with her children
As an adoptive mother, Madonna has been engaged in easing the plight of war orphansImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Gumulira

The plight of orphans is an issue close to Madonna's heart. She has adopted four children from Malawi and in 2008; she also narrated and produced a documentary about Malawi's AIDS orphans, "I Am Because We Are."

Also on board for the film is Camilla Blackett, who will adapt the book into a screenplay. Blackett has written for the sitcoms "Fresh Off the Boat" and "New Girl."

ct/eg (AFP, dpa, AP)