Notorious (2009)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 5 L-6 ; S/N -5. Running time: 2 hours 2 min.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 7:5-7

B.I.G. enjoyed his brief time in the spotlight.

2009 Fox Spotlight Pictures

The rapper known as Notorious B.I.G. was indeed a big guy. Born Christopher Wallace (and played by rapper Jamal Woolard) he was selling drugs on the streets of Brooklyn when he was 16; rose to prominence when he was 20 and record producer Sean Combs discovered him and produced his first album; and was shot dead at the age of 24, just as his second album was coming out.

Although the film will be of interest mainly to devotees of pop culture, director George Tillman Jr. includes in his film a surprising amount of spirituality—surprising because there is also a great amount of street language and nudity, the latter stemming from Christopher being very promiscuous. His mother Voletta (Angela Bassett) tries to keep her son in school, but the allure of his friends in the street is too great. Shortly after the teenager starts selling drugs to his friends, the police arrest him. When he calls his mother from the police station, she refuses to bail him out of jail, but by no means abandons him. She prays for and with him during their telephone conversation, leading him in a recitation of Psalm 23.

After his release he has the good fortune to be rapping on the street when record producer Sean Combs (Derek Luke) hears him. Drawn by Christopher’s originality, he invites him to his studio, giving him the choice of either staying in the streets or signing a record contract. Combs nurtures B.I.G.’s (the stage name he adopts) career and life, the singer achieving great fame with his concerts and first album. The depiction of his life is not idealized, his excessive sexual appetite leading him to betray his true love depicted, as well as his concert achievements. His was a life cut short by the deadly feuding then taking place between rappers of the East and West coasts, but that it was not a futile one is affirmed by the concluding scene in which his grieving mother experiences the affection in which his many fans felt for him.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How could Christopher Wallace be considered a prime example of Martin Luther’s concept of a “sinning saint” ? On which would you place the accent?

2. What kind of an influence does his mother have on him? How is tough love sometimes necessary for us to mature?

3. What do you think is the appeal of rap/hip hop music? What elements of social criticism does it contain? How does it perceive our society—from what some have called “from the bottom up” ?

4. As in The Express, also about a black man who died young, how do the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. apply? ( “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”