Monday, February 02, 2009


By Cleo Brown

Notorious is a film about Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace, struggling to be a man in a community which is notorious for robbing young black males of their dignity. The film, which is excellently written; superbly directed; and absorbingly performed, chronicles the meteoric rise of Biggie Smalls and explores his relationships with his mother (Voletta Wallace), Sean Puffy Combs, Tupac Shakur, Lil Kim, and Faith Evans as Biggie struggles to make some sense out of his life.

Having been abandoned as an adolescent by his father, who was a married man, Biggie turns to the street life and to a secret life of hustling drugs so that he can buy for himself expensive jewelry and clothes. By the time that he is seventeen, however, with his high school sweetheart pregnant, Biggie is kicked out on the streets by his mother after she realizes that Biggie has been selling and storing drugs in her apartment.

Not having had an appropriate male role-model growing up, Smalls does not accept fatherhood gracefully. Consequently landing in prison for two years, it is from a prison pay phone that Biggie reconciles with his mother whom he appeals to for help. Once he is released from prison, although he loves his daughter, he rarely visits the child preferring to spend his spare time with Lil Kim and The Hip Hop Crowd. Eventually, however, as he begins to rise as a Hip-Hop and Bad Boy Recording Arts Star he meets and marries Faith Evans. Inspite of this stabilizing influence upon him, however, Biggie fails to demonstrate the appropriate amount of interest in his child.

In addition to selling drugs, being an ex-convict, and demonstrating poor parenting skills, Christopher Wallace is not a good husband to Faith Evans once causing Evans to beat up a woman whom Biggie has had an affair with. And, in addition to affairs with other women, Wallace although married to and subdued by Evans, continues to consummate his passionate relationship with Lil Kim.

At various points in the film, Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls says, “Dying would be better than this shit!” This is an unmanly solution to life’s problems. But, as he matures and cultivates both friendships and professional relationships with Sean Combs and Tupac Shakur he comes to internalize the words he has first heard from Combs, “To Change the World we must first change ourselves.” Gradually, therefore, inspite of the drugs, the money, the fame and the women Smalls does what his father could not do: he becomes a man by being a good father to his children. Struck down by an assassin’s bullet before he reaches his prime, Biggie Smalls was killed just as he was beginning to make better sense of his life at the young age of twenty-four. Yet, inspite of the film’s reenactment of the deaths of both Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls , there is hardly any violence in the film.

Notorious, which opened in theaters on January 16th, 2009, stars Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls and Angela Bassett as his mother Voletta Wallace. Also starring in the film are Christopher Wallace Jr. as the young Biggie Smalls, Derek Luke as Sean Combs, Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur, Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim and Antonique Smith as Faith Evans. Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and Directed by George Tillman Jr., Notorious, in addition to its exquisite acting; writing; and direction, benefits from a musical score by Danny Elfmann and from the words and the music of Biggie Smalls/Christopher Wallace. The Executive Producer of the film, who is Sean Puffy Combs, deserves an entire bouquet of red roses for his accomplishment with this work.Notorious is rated R for its strong, obscene language; partial nudity; sexual situations; and its glorification of the drug culture.

~Cleo Brown is a moderate Republican who works as an Instructor and as The Dean of Student Affairs in a GED Preparation Program in Chelsea. She holds a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in Education at The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. Cleo has also published several poems and is a featured artists in The International Poetry Library’s Who’s Who in Poetry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I am not a fan of rap primalry because of its misogynistic behavior, but this article is well written and has opened my eyes to this popular American sub-culture.