Academy Award winner Sean Penn got his professional start in television back in 1974, playing “Kid” in two episodes of Little House On The Prairie. Four decades later, he is set to return to the small screen – this time playing the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, in American Lion. Planned as a six hour HBO miniseries, the project is an adaptation of American Lion: Andrew Jackson In The White House by Jon Meacham, with additional research material sourced from a biography by Robert V. Remini.
Scripted by Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (Narcos), the adaptation will take the form of a miniseries so as to encompass greater swathes of the life of Andrew Jackson, who was a deeply controversial figure. Born in 1767, Jackson worked as a courier during the American Revolutionary War in his early teens, and was orphaned by the age of 14. He grew to be a lawyer, then a senator, and then a Judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He also became a military Colonel, and later, a General. It was Jackson’s supporters who founded the Democratic Party, and Jackson held the office of President from 1829 to 1837 – during which time he formally recognized the Republic of Texas, and survived an assassination attempt.
However, Jackson is also noted for actions contributing to the more horrific side of American history – including being a prolific slave owner, helping to suppress abolitionist movements, and signing and enforcing laws that saw the removal of Native Americans from their own lands. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book upon which American Lion is based uses personal papers from the Jackson family to provide insight into the life of the divisive President Jackson, while looking at a period of US history that has been rarely explored onscreen.
The narrative potential of such a project is evident amid the synopsis of the book:
“Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.”
American Lion does not yet have a director, but the presence of a performer of the stature of Sean Penn, along with a commitment from the award-winning HBO, should ensure that this project comes to fruition sooner rather later – hopefully, without shying away from the more disturbing aspects of President Jackson’s actions.