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In some circles, BMF, Black Mafia Family, is as infamous as John Gotti and the Gambino Crime Family. In others, BMF isn’t known at all. 50 Cent’s latest Starz series BMF serves them both. Black Mafia Family and its founders, blood brothers Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, grabbed national headlines in 2008 when they were sentenced to 30 years in prison for running what the DEA termed a “criminal enterprise involving the large scale distribution of cocaine throughout the United States from 1990 through 2005.”  According to The Detroit News, BMF raked in $270 million in profits and employed over 500 people as it distributed thousands of kilograms of cocaine across eleven states in several cities, including their home city Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Birmingham, and Atlanta, where they really cultivated their street legend. 

In Atlanta, BMF was known to be flashy, especially after creating their record label BMF Entertainment. They even erected billboards proclaiming “The World is BMF’s” there. Hobnobbing with rappers was routine for BMF, even before they officially got into the music biz. Prior to the Flenory brothers’ 2008 sentencing, some of the high profile rappers to whom they were linked included Fabolous, Jay-Z and Young Jeezy, whose career they were reportedly instrumental in launching. According to the Gangster Report, things went seriously awry in 2003 when Big Meech and Sean “Diddy” Combs’ longtime bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones clashed during an entertainment event hosted by Jermaine Dupri. It continued beyond the event with shots being fired and Diddy’s bodyguard being killed. 

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Many of BMF’s critics are probably unaware of this history. Instead, their objections fall in line with that of mainstream television critic Jeanne Wolf. “Are we creating more heroes that young people can follow that are glamorous, but will send them on the wrong track?” Wolf asked.

“What was the opportunity that could potentially offer them the ability to go after the American dream itself?” 50 Cent retorted in his lengthy response.

“I could have started it in 2005, and just did six episodes at the highest point [of their criminal enterprise] and then you wouldn’t understand what it was like [or] the innocence of how they got involved in the lifestyle and how it grew. . . . [BMF’s critics] point to Black-on-Black crime,” he told EBONY. “The family dynamic in the BMF series is the thing most people wouldn’t even see as part of their journey.”

Because drug dealers in Black communities have so often been associated with single mother households, 50 Cent is right about the Flenorys hailing from a two-parent home perhaps being the most surprising aspect of their story. Their parents, Charles and Lucille Flenory, depicted by Russell Hornsby and Michole Briana White, did not support any illegal activity. And their father was a particularly strong presence in their lives.

A scene from Black Mafia Family of the Flenorys brothers at dinner with their fam. Image: courtesy of Starz.

“In my understanding of who Charles Flenory was, he was a hard, hardworking, God-fearing man. And I wanted to make sure that I was honest to who he was,” Hornsby shared. To get the family patriarch right, The Hate U Give star discussed his role with Lucille, Charles’ wife. But playing Charles is also bigger than just representing Charles, Hornsby, who shined on stage in several August Wilson plays, including Fences and Jitney, shared.

“This is still a sort of a composite of a representation of what men were like in the 80s—Black men—and what they were dealing with,” he continued. “They were men who got up every morning to go to work and do two or three jobs to make sure food was on the table, and that there was a roof overhead. And, so, these are men of integrity, these are men of a certain sense of purpose and a strength that people didn’t believe was present in our communities.”

If having a strong and consistent male presence in their lives did not keep Demetrius Flenory (played by his son Demetrius Flenory, Jr.) and his brother Terry ( played by Da’Vinchi, best known for his roles on Grown-ish and All American), from the streets, the lingering question is ‘why?’ It’s one BMF series creator Randy Huggins, a proud Detroit native who has worked on several shows including PowerCriminal MindsStar and John Singleton’s Rebel, tries to answer. 

“My show is not necessarily a glorification of crack. My show is more about the situations that cause somebody to make a decision for survival,” Huggins explains. “So, let’s paint the picture of what was happening [in Detroit]: the big three [General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler], that employed many Black men, in particular, were moving; white folks had fled the city starting after the ‘67 riots; businesses were closing. The Detroit that went bankrupt, that was 25 years, actually, people would say, probably 35 years, in the making. So, in the middle of this, this drug comes out.”

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For Hornsby the answer is bigger than just BMF or just Detroit. “I hope that [the series will] give people an opportunity to get a context of what life was like for Black people in Detroit, in Chicago, in Oakland, of what we were dealing with, and why some of the decisions were made to go into these business ventures, if you will. And, again, it’s not about glorifying it,” he insisted. “It’s not about saying it was the right thing to do. But it’s about putting a full context on to why decisions were made, and how they were made, and the fallout of that decision.”

New episodes of BMF’s eight-episode series drop on Starz every Sunday.

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