Dwayne Johnson is a particularly busy man these days, but he’s still going to find time to make one of his most highly anticipated movies happen more than three years after its initial teaser. In 2018, long before there was anything of note when it came to Black Adam or his current project, Red Notice, Dwayne Johnson posted news on the official Facebook of his production company, Seven Bucks, that he had partnered with Netflix to do a movie about the famous African American folk hero, John Henry.
However, there has been near perfect silence about the John Henry project since then. There was a John Henry movie that was made starring Terry Crews that came and went in 2020 — but that was more of a modern adaptation of the story set in present-day California. Not to mention it sits at a 0% percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. So, while it may very well be worth checking out, it’s not really what Dwayne Johnson is going for.
Speaking to SlashFilm, Seven Bucks president Hiram Garcia noted that John Henry and the Statesmen, despite being dormant for three years, is very much still happening. He revealed that a new script draft had recently come in and he and Dwayne Johnson are currently hammering out the finer details (pun intended) and trying to find time to fit it into the actor’s increasingly busy schedule.
The teaser trailer for John Henry and the Statesmen showed what appears to be Dwayne Johnson in period clothing emerging from a barn holding John Henry’s signature hammer. There’s not much else in the way of details and the actor noted in his post at the time that’s by design. It turns out he found that far too many people have no idea who John Henry is despite him being a character that many Black Americans like Johnson (who is also part Samoan) grew up with.
For those unfamiliar, John Henry is an American folk hero known for his prowess as a steel driver who helped lay many railroads across the United States. According to the legend, John Henry once had a famous race with a steam-powered rock drilling machine that pit his muscle and skill with a hammer up against the most modern technology of the time. The story goes that John Henry bested the machine, but it cost him his life, as he immediately died from exhaustion as soon as the contest was over. Obviously, if you’re a Hollywood casting agent and you’re reaching for an impossibly strong folk hero, your hand doesn’t go far before you grab hold of Dwayne Johnson.
Now there is indeed a lot more to the John Henry legend than the simple competition against a steam-powered drill, which, while interesting, isn’t really enough for a whole movie. Fortunately, it’s likely that Dwayne Johnson will hit all the nooks and crannies of the John Henry legend in the movie when it finally does crystalize on the big screen. For example, according to a report from William Grimes for the New York Times in 2006, there’s a whole part to the John Henry story that involves him as a Union soldier who is falsely imprisoned.
American folklore is a rich tapestry filled with myths and truths that are stranger than fiction. One can only imagine where Dwayne Johnson will take this particular one.