Quoted: Reggie Rock Bythewood on Writing Notorious

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson

I was not enthused about the project. There seemed to be little humanity in Christopher Wallace. He sold drugs, used the “N” word as a noun, verb, and adjective, then became a famous rapper. My initial thought, “So what?” Instinctively, though, I knew if I could find a way to connect to him, the film would be entertaining. I liked some of his music. I also knew a film about this icon could be a platform to challenge some of the “cancers” plaguing the inner city. There’s an expression: “You have to enter somebody’s world before you lead them out.” That’s what I would try to do. […]

I interviewed the important players in Biggie’s life – Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Cease, Wayne Barrow. Even P. Diddy came to the crib. The peripheral characters began to take shape. However, I still had not uncovered Biggie. I had to go “method acting” on this bad boy. Instead of looking outside of myself for the main character, I looked inside. I never sold drugs, but as a teenager growing up in the hood, money was important to me. I got a gig acting on a soap opera when I was 16. I wasn’t making Donald Trump loot but I was making as much paper as the drug dealers. I defined my manhood in in a materialistic, superficial way. As I reflected on all this, it struck me. This movie is not about a rapper. It is not about a drug dealer. It is about someone navigating his way to manhood.

Through my research, I learned Biggie was a work in progress. He began to redefine his manhood as he got older. I hoped that, maybe, I (or Biggie) could inspire some of the audience to redefine their manhood as well. Adding this theme was a dangerous game to play. The last thing the studio wanted was some political-statement movie. Still, I had to go where my passion lay. I would try and change the world, or at least a mind. I think using the “N” word as much as some folks do is ignorant. I pulled up Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip on YouTube. Pyror talked about his trip to Africa and the revelation he had from being over there. He said he would never call another black man the “N” word. Well, there was no way to be authentic in Biggie’s world without using that word. However, I hoped to at least get a few people thinking about the way they were talking. I decided I would find a way to put the Richard Pryor clip in the script.

Secondly, I wanted to hold the mirror up to this world and reflect its beauty and its ugliness. Could I get into Biggie’s head? Could I reveal why he sold drugs without judging him? The only way to be successful here is to remember he is actually not an icon. He is a human being with weaknesses and strengths. […]

Notorious kept my hands full for a year and a half. There were changes George and the studio asked for along the way. However, there are some things I never wavered on. Richard Pryor was never taken out. At the end of the movie, Voletta still talks about her son. Most of all, the film is about a boy navigating his way to manhood. The movie I set out to make is the movie that was shot (big sigh of relief). Fortunately, Cheo [Hodari Coker, the original screenwriter] feels the same way.

—“Everyday Struggle: Creating Notorious,” published in Script Magazine, March/April 2009