*2017 has seen its share of specials and documentaries chronicling the life and death of rappers Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. The last of the 2017 entries- documentaries by and large- is an A&E documentary about the “killing of Tupac Shakur”- alleged by insiders to have been plagued by showrunner turnover, network indecisiveness, racial discord and lack of overall direction- will finally air in November of 2017.
And what does 2018 have in mind? Well, certainly not more of the same. The story is still Shakur and Wallace. But this time the action is in the “docu-drama”; a partially fictionalized account of people, places and things that have historical or factual basis. And there will be two coming out.
Hollywood has taken great liberties in selectively dicing and slicing historical narrative. In fact, there are two cases making the court rounds these days which deal specifically with this “latitude.” Olivia de Havilland in June sued FX and Ryan Murphy Productions over her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
The de Havilland case just blew past the age-old legal boundary (known as SLAPP suits) studios use to fend off claims of publicity rights abuse; on September 29, 2017 the judge denied the SLAPP motion of FX Networks and allowed de Havilland’s claims to continue against FX- which almost never happens. It is causing agita among executives in entertainment and media who often use a celebrity’s name and likeness in both fictional and non-fictional works.
The Court’s decision is reminiscent, in some ways, of how Aretha Franklin was able to obtain an injunction to stop a concert documentary from playing at the Telluride Film Festival. She claimed her image rights were specifically denied for that footage. A convicted murderer’s lawsuit over a Lifetime biopic was revived earlier this year by a New York appeals court as well.
Speaking from the wheelhouse of having done three (3) Tupac Shakur related documentaries (two of which had the express blessing of the Shakur Estate), I can state that likeness rights and images in the context of the documentary is a sacred cow; the “fair use” doctrine has helped countless low and no budget filmmakers get movies made. If Aretha Franklin could bypass “Fair Use” and get an injunction- as did the plaintiffs in a recent Lynard Skynard documentary court case (it was enjoined by a New York judge,) then the entire landscape is shifting. And that is in “fact based” reporting where “Fair Use” is a copyright defense.
How much further is the extension ladder pushed out when the issue of “fictional portrayal” is at hand? And what does it do to the industry when historical “inaccuracies and liberties” are subject to scrutiny? History, from anyone who has taken a class in it, can often be, for lack of a better term, boring. Unless you are really into the subject matter. Hollywood is not particularly “into” anything like that. Stories are its commerce and stories can’t be boring.
But what happens if the story is being written intentionally to alter history and influence the future all at one time? Can that happen? Can Hollywood alter the future?
Yes, it will in 2018.
Universal Cable TV and USA Networks will be releasing a show that will forever put the final nail in the casket on the investigations of both Wallace and Shakur’s killings- 100% guaranteeing that there will never be any opportunity- even if there was one to begin with- that the cases will ever lead to a conviction…or at least closure.
The show is currently entitled, “Unsolved” and is the fictionalized account the killings of Wallace and Shakur. But the show is not a historical look- it is the alleged story of a Detective Greg Kading- who has serious credibility issues of his own just screaming to come loose when this drama premieres- and his alleged leadership of “multiple task forces” investigating the Wallace and Shakur cases.
The story promises Hollywood leading man Josh Duramel (“Transformers”) to play Kading and a host of other TV-talent names to play parts of those associated with the 20 year investigation. The show is being produced by the producers of “The People versus OJ Simpson” a story about other killings and the trial of the famous football player (which was acquitted for the crimes.)
So, what makes this unique amongst other “ripped from the headlines” stories?
It is, to this writer’s knowledge, the only TV show making a fictionalized account of a case that is STILL ACTIVE.
Said again: the case is still considered active and ongoing.
It’s not like the Shakur and Wallace cases have been treated well to begin with. Las Vegas (home of the Shakur killing) police have a literal (but not publicized) stand still on the investigation, and have basically remained that way for 20 years. The Wallace investigation was mired in controversy since its inception. The Los Angeles based killing was the subject to much controversy and unresolved speculation that Los Angeles Police Officers were involved in the 1997 killing of Wallace.
Moreover, the Wallace family sought to sue the City of Los Angeles over the investigation- or lack thereof. The Wallace discovery in the case revealed hidden L.A.P.D. files, witnesses being sequestered from the Wallace family (Kenneth Boagni) and other dips and dodges the City of Los Angeles employed- until the City was hit with a one million dollar fine for withholding evidence.
The Wallace case was eventually dismissed when the replacement judge (the original judge passed away) held that the L.A.P.D. was protected from giving the Wallace family evidence and documents they had to the Wallace attorneys because the L.A.P.D. sough protection under the “active and ongoing investigation” clauses of the law. In other words L.A.P.D. kept evidence away from the Wallace family because they claimed doing so would hurt (compromise) an ongoing investigation.
At that same exact time (the beginning of the case) Kading and Daryn Dupree (and others) began an L.A.P.D. investigation (a “task force”…one “task force”) into the Wallace slaying; its purpose was clear from the start, according to Kading’s 2010 book- absolve the L.A.P.D. and save the city millions- if not billions- in civil liability.
In the end, that task force could neither clear the L.A.P.D. of wrongdoing (files related to the Wallace case were not given to them) nor could they develop anything new, instead trying to bolster a twenty year old “street justice” theory out forth by the corrupt Compton P.D. and promoted by former Death Row Records Security Head (and person of interest in the Wallace case at one point) Reginald Wright Jr. Wright is currently under federal indictment for interstate drug trafficking and money laundering.
Kevin McClure, who actually ran the L.A.P.D. task force told LA Weekly “”I have no problems with Greg…We followed every viable lead that we had at the time and pushed it to the point where we needed something else to occur in order to move the case forward. And that something — someone else coming forward to corroborate what we had — didn’t happen.” McClure also went on to tell the L.A. Times “We kept pounding the doors on the same cold leads.”
Which brings us to today and the Unsolved show: in a recent PR statement, Universal/ USA claimed “Wendell Pierce is set for the role of Detective Lee Tucker, an old school homicide detective from the LA Sheriff’s Department. Camille Chen will play Grace Kim, a robbery-homicide department secretary.” Further review of the IMDB cast list reveals other fictional characters: A “Sergeant Dorsey” amongst several unknown and undisclosed generic titles. The fodder for fictionalized accounts. 100% false.
Further, the show goes on to mischaracterize and by way of doing so, speak to the direction of the show’s narrative. A character “Haitian Jack”, currently an alleged fugitive, avoiding extradition and an alleged drug dealer, implicated for years as being somehow involved with an attack on Shakur in 1994, was described yesterday by Universal as “a legendary New York-based club promoter turned music executive.”
“Legendary” seems not to cut it. Nor does the fictional portrayal of Daryn Dupree, the current lead investigator for the Shakur/Wallace killings for the L.A.P.D.
Said again: Universal is creating a fictional account of a homicide investigation which is still “active”- and a fictional account of its lead investigator. How does that not hurt (compromise) an ongoing investigation? For starters, it will certainly be set to confuse the hell out of the public that knows little to nothing about the “active” case.
Let’s fantasize for a moment that the killers of Shakur and Wallace were in a cave for 20 years asleep. They walk in the police station and turn themselves in. They confess.
Even on that, in our legal system, one has to be convicted “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not that there is already not enough doubt- some even claiming Shakur is still alive. But looking at this practically, let’s sit down some jurors. The OJ jurors for example.
How does any jurist segregate the “fictional” Daryn Dupree from the one actually working the case? Presumably he’s the detective that scores the confession, since he’s right there to get it, like a policeman Johnny Bench. Now Dupree is on the stand. “Weren’t you the one who escaped the burning building with a kid in each arm?” asks the defense attorney. “We saw that on the T.V. show…”
“No, I didn’t say or do (name the fictionalized event),” says Dupree, as the case for the State implodes. “Well, how can we tell the difference between the fake DuPree (who was suspended for looking into private citizen data without a warrant and using illegal “cloned” cell phones) with the good-looking star of the TV show?”
Kading is retired, as is Russell Poole and most other people fictionalized in the story. But is it appropriate to bring active and ongoing investigators into a fictionalized show? And what is the potential damage that can be inflicted when the “fictionalized” narrative sets up a public appearance and mythos on an unresolved matter. Isn’t it tantamount to globalized witness tampering and impeding an investigation?
Why then would the L.A.P.D. not bring its full legal arms to bear on this; they stymied the Wallace Family in court by denying factual information to be disclosed even privately (known as sealed) because they were allegedly so sensitive to the sway the information might put on the “active investigation.” One might believe that the information being put out- and clearly advertised as fictional- with fake people places and things, might not inflict worse damage than the Wallace family ever could?
In fact, why has the L.A.P.D. been silent on the matter of Kading since 2010? Like many other cops, he has written a book, condemning the L.A.P.D.; admitting it hid information from Las Vegas police in the Shakur Killing; admitting it was protecting its potential culpability. Kading claims, however to have personal possession of copies of all the documents, evidence and “murder books” for the Wallace case. He has played “confession tapes” gathered under unusual and allegedly illegal means. If anyone else were to have absconded with all of those L.A.P.D. owned and controlled documents (including ones likely denied the Wallace Family) and held them as their own, the L.A.P.D. would be all over them.
So, what this looks like is an fictional narrative of a case that everyone knows will forever frustrate both unsolved and “active” cases by portraying a “fictional” narrative of events.
And somehow the L.A.P.D. is okay with this.
Like the de Haviland case, there is already danger in putting false words in some historical character’s mouth. Maybe the Court is tired of this latitude. The saving grace is that generally, there is no future repercussions (other than ruffled feathers) from words put in historical characters mouths.
But for the first time, should that latitude be allowed to given to even think about influencing the outcome of any potential “active and ongoing” investigation? Kading and Universal is treating this like the matter is a “closed investigation”.
Many fans and family members do not share that belief.
How honest is this show really going to be, generally? Is Universal going to pull back the curtain and show the “wizard”?
Will Universal disclose Kading and the team as their own worst enemies? According to the Court of Appeals findings, when Kading entered this bedroom, he pointed his gun at Motley’s baby, who was on his back on the bed, looking toward the bedroom door. When Motley heard her five-week-old son start screaming, she ran into the room, where Kading was still pointing the gun at the baby. According to the mother, Kading kept his gun trained on the baby while he searched the room, which took twenty minutes.
The Court of Appeals said Kading, was not entitled to “qualified immunity” for holding an infant at gunpoint, but Kading was eventually dismissed from the lawsuit when the Court allowed his explanation that the “L.A.P.D. never told him that it was not okay to do that.”
Will Unsolved be honest about Kading personally torpedoing a 59 count indictment case against George Torrez Ramos? Kading lied under oath in a federal case and was alleged to have offered (on tape) money, houses and cars to informants for selling his story.
Known more for organizing the Unsolved “task force” Brian Tyndall’s ethics and practices were questioned by famed defense attorney Tom Mesereau in the murder trial of TV star Robert Blake. Tyndall, who had been with the LAPD for 32 years and a homicide detective for more than 13 of those years, was chided by Mesereau
Mesereau: As co-lead detective in the investigation of Mr. Robert Blake, do you consider it appropriate conduct for a lead detective to describe a book writer as his or her partner when confronting a witness?
Tyndall: It would depend on the content [sic.].
Tyndall was also caught up in the notorious 1999 L.A.P.D. “Rampart” cases, that involved false testimony by corrupt cop Raphael Perez which lead to several innocent police officers having charges filed against them. Perez told Tyndall’s old Rampart task force that ““if someone pisses me off, I’ll throw their name in the hat and they will get investigated, innocent or not.” According to the Court of Appeals
“Although Tyndall knew of these accusations, he never provided the information to Skaggs or Barling; nor was the information ever provided to Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke before charges against the Officers were filed.” (HARPER v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES)
The jury awarded each officer compensatory damages in the amount of $5,000,001 plus attorney fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed that order.
Wallace Task Force Member Shands McCoy was one of six L.A.P.D. CRASH officers receiving suspensions of two to 35 days after being judged by two separate LAPD discipline boards. The internal investigation was launched after a suspect’s father complained that his son was beaten by officers. Shands and others were found guilty of using unnecessary force, such as choking Cordova or striking him with fists or flashlights.
Wallace Task Force member Daryn Dupree, the L.A.P.D. “lead” Wallace detective, was suspended without pay for 44 days when LAPD Board of Rights found Dupree guilty of using a “chipped,” cell phone, a term for a legitimate cellular phone account that has been captured and illegally cloned into another handset- and Dupree’s improperly accessing the department’s computer system eight times, seeking information on the girlfriend of the FBI’s target in the drug probe.
Wallace Task Force member William Holcomb was another problem for the L.A.P.D. It was alleged and found that that Holcomb stopped a citizen, arrested her, and then detained her for several hours at a police station for questioning without probable cause, in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.
What the facts state about the Unsolved Task Force and the USA Universal version will no doubt be unique and distinct from one another. But instead of disciplinary issue-prone cops, we will get an investigation- an active and ongoing one- being portrayed as whitewashed real people and others who are 100 percent fake.
How does this forward any interest of justice?
It doesn’t. And that is exactly the point. The L.A.P.D. wants a false narrative- any false narrative and the more false the better– to survive publicly because it will for once and for all put the final nail in Christopher Wallace’s coffin.
Whether you believe any theory or another, no theory will ever survive the complete fiction of Unsolved. And this will make sure publicly and loudly that the L.A.P.D. will forever be freed of liability for anything to do with the Wallace case.
So RIP Biggie and Tupac cases. They will end the moment “Unsolved” hits the air.
Richard “RJ” Bond, has spent over 10 (ten) years making documentaries and writing books related to the Shakur and Wallace cases. His first documentary about the subject, 2006’ “Tupac: Assassination” won the Atlanta “Spaghetti Junction” film festival Red Catpet Selection Award. His latest documentary “Battle for Compton” is available on digital and streaming media everywhere. Conatact his via: [email protected]