Eight years after his death, rapper Biggie Smalls finally might be getting the B.I.G. screen treatment. On July 19, Fox Searchlight announced that it is fast-tracking a biopic of slain hip-hop star Christopher ”Biggie Smalls” Wallace (a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.). Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua is set to direct.
”He was this iconic figure with a life full of pain and full of love,” says Nick Broomfield, who directed the 2002 doc Biggie & Tupac. ”Who wouldn’t want to tell that story?” But it hasn’t been that simple. In 2001, Killer Films recognized the potential box office appeal of Biggie’s transformation from small-time crack dealer into chart-topping Billboard artist. The indie production company optioned a Rolling Stone article, ”The Murder of the Notorious B.I.G.,” which chronicled the scandal-ridden LAPD investigation of his death. ”A great story is always going to get told eventually,” says Christine Vachon, a partner at Killer, where the project is in limbo.
Trouble is, a Biggie biography is a story without an ending. No arrests were ever made for the rapper’s 1997 shooting murder at age 24, which could be one reason why, after DreamWorks became attached to the project in 2002, it quickly disappeared from the studio’s slate. But those involved with the new film aren’t concerned about previous efforts. ”We’re not just documenting one man’s life,” explains Zola Mashariki, Fox Searchlight’s director of production. ”It’s also about this huge shift in black music from peripheral to mainstream. It was the golden age of hip-hop.”
In addition, Searchlight has one thing the other version didn’t: the family’s blessing. Smalls’ mother, Voletta Wallace, is on board as a producer, although Mashariki insists the finished product won’t be just a musical lovefest: ”It wouldn’t do him justice putting out a puff piece. He lived with chaos — that’s what made Biggie larger than life.”