Opening 26 Mar 2009
Rap singer Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, was born Christopher Wallace. He grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn, New York, as a single child with a single mother who was a teacher. He was “fat, black and ugly” and just missed going down the road of petty crime. Instead, influential musicians, such as Sean Puffy Combs, recognized his talent and paved the way to a successful musical career starting with his recording “Ready to Die.” He was at the top of the game on March 9, 1997, when, at age 24, he was shot dead coming out of a Vibe Magazine party after the Soul Train Music Awards. This was just six months after his colleague and rival, Tupac Shakur, died the same way at almost the same age. The film follows his childhood (played by his real 12-year-old son Christopher Jordan Wallace) to his marriage to Faith Evans (Antonique Smith – an Angelina Jolie look-a-like) to his last hours. Blame goes to the media for stirring up a rhetorical east-west rivalry between Shakur and Wallace with deadly results. The assassins of both men are still unknown and unpunished.
The whole cast attended the 2009 Berlinale press conference, including Wallace’s mother Violette Wallace, who produced the film with his former managers Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts. Ms. Wallace said that they all strove to present Wallace’s life as they knew him. She said the film shows that one can learn from mistakes and dreams can come true They hope to inspire young people and have established The CHW Memorial Fund which provides books, computers, and mentor programs for children because, “Books don’t kill. Think B.I.G.” It’s heartening to see Angela Bassett back on screen again as Violette. Jamal Woolard is a believable Wallace with the necessary swagger; himself a rapper, he, too, could sing live all necessary recordings and concerts. Director George Tillman Jr. filmed on location in Brooklyn.
Notorious will find a niche in a long line of biographical films about musicians. I sometimes needed subtitles to understand Black English. Be prepared for lines such as “I know mother f******s who know mother f******s. What don’t break a nigger make a nigger. What’s the world coming to when a drug dealer can’t walk the streets at night? Nigger got to figure out that life s**t.” You got your rap right there, yo. (Becky Tan)