Can You Even Wait for This Movie About the Prohibition-Era, Numbers-Running Queen of Harlem? 

Cicely Tyson as Madame Queen in 1997’s Hoodlum. Photo via
screencap, YouTube.

Here’s something that kicks ass: There’s an HBO Films project
in the works dedicated to the life of Stephanie St. Clair, the
legendary Harlem numbers runner. Basically she ran a version of
what we know now as the lottery, only it was under the
table—and that meant going toe to toe with the mob.

Deadline reports that
Ride Along director and very successful producer Tim
Story is working with HBO Films on the project, based on
The World of Stephanie St. Clair: An Entrepreneur, Race
Woman and Outlaw in the Early Twentieth Century Harlem.

More detail:

Nicole Asher has been hired to
script the story about the woman who was an immigrant from
the Caribbean and ended up running something known as the
Policy Bank — which really was the precursor to the American
lottery system.

Yes, it was in the time of organized crime and the money
flowed, but when mobsters Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano and
a corrupt police force tried to take over her criminal
enterprise she fought fiercely against them and won those
battles.

Asher also wrote the Madame C.J. Walker project currently in the works,
starring Octavia Spencer. Deadline notes that there was at one
point recently another St. Clair series in the works at Lifetime,
and that Cicely Tyson played her in the 1997 movie
Hoodlum. The source material is rich, to say the
least; in 2010, PopMatters ran an excerpt from
Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the
Wars
that contained this passage:

There was something magnificent about the way Madame Queen
fought the good fight. Desperately outnumbered and outgunned,
she used every conceivable stratagem at her disposal. She
leaked details of Schultz’s operations in Harlem to anyone
who would listen, including the police, the newspapers, the
district attorney, and the federal authorities, who, as a
result, would make the Dutchman’s life a misery as they
pursued him for unpaid income taxes. On several occasions, a
black Carrie Nation, she had stormed into one of the
countless white-owned and white-run stores on Seventh Avenue
that wrote numbers and, as the Amsterdam News
recorded, “smashed plate glass cases, snatched and destroyed
innumerable policy slips, and warned the operators to ‘get
out of Harlem.’

Until the premiere, please enjoy the Wikipedia entry for “numbers game” and
the many, many names it went under.

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