RJ, whenever it comes down to advice from anyone, myself included, and especially so-called screenwriting ‘gurus’, whenever you can, dig up the facts. What’s actually happening. Conventional wisdom in and around Hollywood is often wrong. If I hadn’t been tracking spec script deals the last three years and someone asked about writing a spec drama, if they were passionate about it and I thought the idea had commercial viability as a movie, I’d say sure, write it. Just be aware Drama is not the most popular spec genre. But the fact that I do track the market and this is now an established trend, it’s like Richard Pryor said about the guy discovered in bed with his mistress by his wife, telling her, “Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?” Go with the facts.
Re your 2nd question: While it’s certainly helpful to have an historical figure of some notoriety, especially in this day and age of Hollywood’s obsession with pre-branded content, a la Michael Jackson, Madonna, Monica Lewinsky, it’s not absolutely necessary. Look at Hidden Figures. Not one of those central characters was a household name, but it was a story that felt like a movie.
That’s my bottom line: Does this feel big enough to be a movie? If it is and you’re passionate about it, like really passionate, then write it. At the very least, you’ve got a good writing sample. If it doesn’t sell, it can get you meetings. And it’s always there as an asset and potential movie project down the road.