Monday, January 19, 2009

Notorious: The Man Behind the Music

Actor Jamal Woolard stars as rap icon Notorious B.I.G. and actor Derek Luke portrays rapper and entrepreneur Sean “Puffy” Combs in the movie Notorious. (Photo courtesy of FOX Searchlight Pictures)

By Marcus A. Williams

(January 6, 2009) - His fans knew Notorious B.I.G, the fire-spitting, ruthless rapper. His mother knew Christopher, the boy. His close-knit circle of friends knew Biggie Smalls, the fierce protector and women knew him as simply Biggie, the charming player. But finally, everyone will get to know Christopher Wallace, the man.

Thanks to film director, George Tillman Jr., mother, Voletta Wallace and a host of supportive friends and family members, the world will get a glimpse at the different sides of rapper Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace.

Notorious charts the rapper’s remarkable rise from the drug-infested streets of Brooklyn to the glitz and glam of the music industry. And despite avoiding the slew of conspiracy theories surrounding his death, the movie shows the vulnerable and innocent side of someone that many saw as a hardcore street rapper.

“The movie is called Notorious. If everything else were fleshed out it would have taken away from Biggie. The good thing about making movies is that you are making a compilation of the ‘hot points’ of a person, kind of like the best of Notorious B.I.G.,’” says actor Anthony Mackie, who portrays rap icon Tupac in the movie. “So, being as though the movie is about Notorious you have to allow Biggie to shine and let everyone see all the different sides of him.”

From the first day of pre-production it was clear that finding someone to portray such a layered person would be an arduous task.

But after thousands of auditions, newcomer Jamal Woolard arrived at an audition in Brooklyn as Biggie reincarnated.

“I was messed-up when I first saw the finished product. I went through ‘Biggie boot camp’ with an acting coach who really believed in me and just pushed me to tap into my inner emotions and bring them out as an actor,” says Woolard. “She made sure I stayed in character at all times so I could really become Biggie.”

Notorious is not only about how well Woolard plays Biggie Smalls or the hush-hush relationship with female rap protégée Lil’ Kim, nor the scenes of the plus-sized rapper and Sean “Puffy” Combs launching their careers in Washington, D.C.

The part of Notorious’ life most of the world is hungry to know more about is his rift with Tupac and the now infamous East Coast-West Coast rivalry.

“George (the director) touched on it but it didn’t harp on it. The interviews he inserted into the movie really did a good job of showing how the public was being fed lies from the media to create news,” says Mackie. “As a matter of fact, there was a time when Tupac went up to Biggie and told him, ‘I don’t have no beef, I’m just trying to sell records, so we cool.’”

However, the lyrics to songs like “Who Shot Ya?” by Biggie and “Hit ‘Em Up” by Tupac makes it difficult for the public to believe that the rappers had nothing to do with the media-driven “East Coast –West Coast beef.”

“I don’t think the tragedies that happened during their era or the ones that are still happening have nothing to do with hip hop. I think it has everything to do with stupidity, illiteracy, just human beings not being human,” says the rapper’s mother and producer of the film Voletta Wallace. “All of these killings are not hip-hop killings, it’s brother killing brother, mother abusing her kids, husbands slapping their wives – nothing to do with hip hop.”

Notorious turns Biggie’s life into an open book and shows his hunger for success which was not driven by money, women or fame, but rather by love of family, friends and hip hop.

“This movie is for every body. We all can relate to prosperity, everybody can relate to hope and love,” says Mackie. “The reason why the song ‘Juicy’ was such a hit is because of the first line ‘It was all a dream.’ We all have dreamed of things but none of us knew if they were really going to come true. That’s what everyone will be able to relate to––that dream.”

The remainder of the ensemble includes; Derek Luke as rapper/entrepreneur Sean “Puffy” Combs, Angela Bassett as mother Voletta Wallace, Antonique Smith as singer Faith Evans and Naturi Naughton as rapper Lil’ Kim.

‘Notorious’ hits theaters nationwide on Jan. 16.

Charlie Rose and Rahm Emanuel

A conversation with Rahm Emanuel, Incoming White House Chief of Staff

Martin Luther King, Jr: A Life of Service

Congressman John Lewis and Former Senator Harris Wofford discuss Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy of service as we near the day where we celebrate the civil rights leader.

How Should Barack Obama Handle the Media? By Richard A. Lee

On the heels of his successful campaign and historic election, Barack Obama would not appear to be a man in need of advice on dealing with the news media. Ever since he emerged on the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he has enjoyed largely favorable, positive press coverage. In fact, his treatment by the news media was so flattering and so complimentary that his rivals in the primary and general elections frequently voiced complaints. Nevertheless, the dynamics are likely to change. As the nation’s 44th president, Obama will be judged by how he governs, instead of how he performs on the campaign trail.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to offer media advice to several individuals making the transition from candidate to officeholder, albeit at the state and local levels. But if Barack Obama were to seek my advice, here are ten recommendations I would offer to guide his media operations:

1. The best thing you can do to garner positive press is to run your administration well. Legendary Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once said that good government is good politics. But good government also is good press. When things were going well during the primary and election campaigns, good press followed. Running an effective and efficient administration may not automatically generate good press, but the converse certainly is true. An Administration that makes mistakes, raises ethical and legal questions and creates controversy is likely to be an Administration with bad press.

2. Make sure your administration speaks with one voice. One of the difficulties involved with moving up to higher office is learning to control the many agencies and workers that come with the new job. Suddenly, there are people with important responsibilities whom you may not know well – or at all. Also, you no longer are in a situation in which the entire team is focused on getting you elected. There will be people with their own agendas and priorities – and they may not always be consistent with yours.

3. Respect the press. Never forget that reporters are professionals with a job to do, even if that means asking questions and raising issues you would rather not address. Do not take it personally or hold grudges. Avoid governing as if the press is out to get you. Stick to your agenda and stay on message. That is how you got to the Oval Office and that is how you can succeed there.

4. Be open, accessible and honest. Almost every public official makes these promises, but few keep them. A policy of true transparency will go a long way toward building and maintaining a good working relationship with the press.

5. Apply the adage “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” to your media policies. Do not limit your interviews to news organizations that tend to agree with your ideology. If you want to win over those who have not supported you in the past, you need to make your case in the newspapers, websites and television stations they rely upon for news.

6. Remain aware of the changing media landscape. Today, we get our news and information from a wide variety of sources – and many of them are not traditional news entities. During the campaign, the Obama team was adept at bypassing the traditional media and going directly to the people through email, YouTube and even online video games. Continued use of new media will pay dividends in the today’s tech-savvy world.

7. Make reporters’ jobs easier. Know their deadlines and when it is best to issue a news release or hold a news conference. Remember that if you leak a story to one news organization, you are likely to make enemies with its competitors. Anticipate what reporters will need so you can have answers and information ready to help them meet deadlines.

8. Continue to make good use of “soft news”. Stories about Michelle, the kids, the search for a family dog, and moving your mother-in-law into the White House all help to create a warm and authentic feeling about the nation's chief executive, something that has been missing for quite a while.

9. Conversely, remember that using your family to score political points works two ways. They are now fair game for the press, so do not cry foul if the media starts asking questions about your family members and their activities.

10. Keep the press busy with a full schedule of news conferences and public events. The press needs a steady flow of news. The more news the Obama Administration creates, the less time reporters have to dig up dirt and produce negative stories.

One final thought based upon my years of work on the communication staffs of several public officials:

Above all, listen to the advice of your own press staff. Your staffers may not always have all of the answers, but public officials have gotten themselves into a myriad of problems that could have been avoided had they heeded the advice of the individuals they hired to handle the media. Believe me, I know.

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Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.