Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s forays into television production are on the verge of eclipsing his very successful rap career. His debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ may have sold over 10 million copies, but his series Power just ended an impressive six-season run with four—yes four—spin-offs in the works.
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Never one to keep all of his eggs in one basket, Jackson has now produced a new drama for ABC, For Life, a serialized version of the trials and tribulations of Isaac Wright Jr, a wrongfully convicted felon who became a lawyer while still incarcerated.
Executive produced by 50 Cent, written and created by Harvey Steinberg and based on the life of Isaac Wright Jr. Esq, “For Life” stars Nicholas Pinnock, Joy Bryant, Indira Varma, Tyla Harris, Dorian Missick, Felonius Munk and many otherrs in this talented cast. BET.com was invited to sit with Fifty, Steinberg and Wright, Jr. about bringing this amazingly poignant story to screen.
BET: Gentlemen, I feel like this story can be ripped out of the headlines from any contemporary era. What made you all want to be a part of this project?
50 Cent: First of all, it was based on a true story. I met Isaac through a mutual friend who, at the time, had an illegal fight club and I was a promoter in Nevada with Floyd Mayweather. I wouldn’t go [to the fight] until they legalized it, and they did that through Isaac. He came there, we talked about how they legalized it and we started talking about his story. The idea, initially, was for a feature film. I was like, ‘No, it’s too serious.’ I didn’t see how you could tell a story that’s that profound in two hours. There’s not enough time to tell it and for you to experience it.
Harvey Steinberg: Before they brought me the project, I was immediately tapped into that character. The idea that we could have a forum to say something about criminal justice and the systems in our country and examine their flaws, disparities and problems with racial bias and socio-economic bias. If you have money and can hire a great lawyer, they can twist the law. If you don’t have money then you’re in real trouble.
BET: There are some who would say serializing or dramatizing Black trauma is a negative thing. However, do you agree that this series can inform people in a very honest way as to what’s really going on?
50 Cent: Well, you know, you have people who have an interesting perspective on things. Like, if you look, they may be angry with the genre, but it forces people to see that angle. You gotta think ‘if you don’t look at things involving racial injustice, then how are you ever going to resolve them?’ You’ll never get to the point where people are conscious of the flaws in the system we have. The system doesn’t work for our people. Over time you start to see that law enforcement officers are working with the District Attorney’s office to get them to corroborate what you've been charged with in order to convict you. It’s tough. The people in the District Attorney’s office want to move up in their career.
When you look at the concept for the story, it’s not a unicorn. A unicorn means there’s only one. When I heard the story, I was like ‘Whoa!’ This story is going on in the Bronx and it’s a prison drama. The person who’s watching it is going to know about all of those things.
Hank Steinberg: It’s an interesting thing. I’m a white writer writing a story with Black protagonists and a bunch of white male antagonists. We have an issue in this country with white male patriarchy and lots of those things are being attacked now. I’m Jewish so we have our own traumas.
Do I think we shouldn’t make a Holocaust movie because we shouldn’t show Jews being victims? Some (Jewish) people have very strong feelings about movies depicting Jewish people like sheep marching to the gas chambers. They didn’t fight. That’s a big thing for us, but there is a lot of consciousness in my writers’ room, half of which is African-American. I actively sought out that perspective and we thought about how to deal with it every time we have a challenging situation.
Aaron (Nicholas Pinnock) is an incredibly admirable character. He’s been traumatized by the system, but he’s also constantly fighting while incarcerated. One of the high-level writers, who’s also African-American, has a brother who’s incarcerated. She has so much specificity. She brings it, along with her other experiences and we talk about how important it is to humanize those characters. You’ll see as the show goes on that these are real people. Whether they’re wrongfully convicted or they did something, they don’t belong in a box that’s four feet wide by seven feet long.
BET [to Isaac Wright Jr]: This story is based upon your life and it seems as if it's one of triumph. However, similar things did happen to you where you consistantly faced injustice. What was it like seeing your story portrayed onscreen and did it reignite any traumas for you?
Isaac Wright Jr: One of the major and profound aspects of putting the show together was how it affected me personally. Aside from the my own fight, I was continuously engaged in the fight for others. So, for decades, all I did was fight. What that did to me is it didn’t give me the time to reflect on my own feelings.
I never really reflected on what I was actually going through. I was just going through it, so, moving through this series, being on set, and watching Nicholas perform, it actually allowed me to view myself in the third person. For the first time, I was able to see what other people were seeing all along and kinda realizing that, not only was I in pain, not only was I hurting, but I was going through some horrific things. And times, it was an emotional experience because I was hurting for the character and hurting for myself at the time.
BET (to 50 Cent): The anniversary date for ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’ is coming up. It’s been 17 years, you just got your star on the Walk of Fame, and now you have another project that I feel is going to knock it out the park. Can you briefly explain that arc that got you from there to here? I know it's been a long way, but...
50 Cent: I feel like every few days I got something going on. February 6th is when we dropped ‘Get Rich or Die Trying,' February 9th was the finale for ‘Power’, February 11th is the premiere of ‘For Life.' It just keeps flowing. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to do the same things. I’m evolving and you're just going to have to watch me and roll with me.
For Life premieres on ABC on February 11. Check your local listings for times.
Photo Credit: ABC