B. B. King Biopic/The Thrill Is On

On October 25th, Variety disclosed that an official biopic of iconic blues musician B.B. King is going into pre-production in 2021, Vassal Benford, chairman of King’s estate, tells Variety. This is a separate project from The Thrill Is On, which is a drama about King’s friendship with drummer Michael Zanetis starring Wendell Pierce as King.

Confusion first arose when The Wire and Selma actor Pierce announced that he would play King via Twitter on Oct. 19 (2020). “We are official. Preparation has begun on a film where I will be honored to play the great B.B. King,” Pierce wrote. This led many to assume he would be playing King in a biopic retelling the late singer-guitarist’s life story.  Pierce expanded on the situation on Oct. 22, writing: “The Estate of B.B. King has requested I clarify the film The Thrill Is On is not a biopic in the traditional sense. It is a dramatized version of a real-life friendship story in the spirit of the film Round Midnight.”

B.B. King’s estate has clarified that there are two separate projects in the works concerning King — “The Thrill Is On,” which is not associated with the estate, and an upcoming biopic of King’s life, which is being produced by the estate. Though Benford says King’s estate has considered Pierce to play King in the biopic, they are looking at a number of other actors for the role, including “Saturday Night Live” star Kenan Thompson. A major director is also in talks to helm the upcoming biopic, according to the estate.  The official biopic is going into pre-production in 2021

“I am not qualified to write a biopic of Mr. King’s life, but this decade of his life is a chapter I lived with him,” Zanetis told Variety. “Our friendship flourished until our last visit in 2011.”

Though The Thrill Is On is not associated with or produced by King’s estate, Benford says that the estate does not disapprove of the film.  Benford told Variety, the estate wants it to be clear that the film announced by Pierce is not a biopic and the estate does not want there to be any confusion as to the nature of each separate project.  One is a docudrama, and the other is the official B.B. King biopic approved by corporate management of the B.B. King estate and trust as a part of B.B. King’s legacy initiative.

In a statement previously released by representatives for The Thrill Is On, the project is described to be a “friendship film.” The movie tells the inspiring true story of how a chance meeting between Zanetis, a young musician, and B.B. King in 1980 led to King being the first blues artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.  The title is a play on one of King’s biggest hits, “The Thrill Is Gone.”

Pierce has been attached to star in the film produced and co-written by Zanetis since 2009, but the film — then titled “B.B. King and I” — ran into legal trouble in 2012 when Zanetis sued King after receiving a cease-and-desist order from King’s representatives.  However, both Pierce and Zanetis have said that King gave them his blessing to make the film before his death in 2015.

On October 29th, Variety wrote that four former members of B.B. King’s band — Walter Riley King, James “Boogaloo” Bolden, Michael Doster and Tony Coleman — will portray themselves in the The Thrill Is On.  “We’re honored to have these extraordinary musicians join us in our tribute to Mr. King. They traveled the world with him for decades and continue to keep his legacy alive,” stated Zanetis.

After serving in World War II, Riley B. King, better known as B.B. King, became a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was dubbed “the Beale Street Blues Boy.” That nickname was shortened to “B.B.” and the guitarist cut his first record in 1949. He spent the next several decades recording and touring, playing more than 300 shows a year. An artist of international renown, King worked with other musicians from rock, pop and country backgrounds. He released over 50 albums and won his 15th Grammy Award in 2009. King died in his sleep in Las Vegas in 2015, leaving behind an enduring musical legacy.  Source(s):  Variety; biography.com; Photo Source(s):  bluegr.com; igormiranda.com.


Burning Cane

a/k/a The Glory

Release Date:  11/6/19 – Netflix
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Director:  Phillip Youmans
Studio(s):   Denizen Pictures, Array Releasing.
Running Time: 77 mins.

Cast:   Wendell Pierce (Reverend Tillman), Karen Kaia Livers (Helen Wayne), Dominique McClellan (Daniel Wayne), Braelyn Kelly (Jeremiah Wayne), Emyri Crutchfield (Sherry Bland).

Story:   Burning Cane tells the story of a deeply religious woman’s (Karen Kaia Livers) struggle to reconcile her convictions of faith with the love she has for her alcoholic son (Dominique McClellan) and a troubled preacher (Wendell Pierce).  Set in rural Louisiana, the film explores the relationships within a southern black protestant community, examining the roots of toxic masculinity, how manhood is defined and the dichotomous role of religion and faith.  Source:  Slashfilm.com.



Release Date:  12/27/19; In Theaters (Original Release: 1/27/19 Sundance Film Festival)
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Director:  Chinonye Chukwu
Studio(s):   ACE Pictures Entertainment, Big Indie Pictures
Running Time:  113 mins.

Cast:  Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

Story:   How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your sense of right and wrong? Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) is a prison warden who, over the years, has been drifting away from her husband while dutifully carrying out executions in a maximum security prison. When she strikes up a unique bond with death-row inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), a layer of emotional skin is peeled back, forcing Bernadine to confront the complex—and often contradictory—relationship between good intentions, unrequited desires, and what it means to be sanctioned to kill.  Source:  Sundance.org.




Confirmation stillRelease Date:  4/16/16; HBO
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Running Time:   Unknown
Studio(s):  ABC Signature Studios, Groundswell Productions, HBO Films.
Director:  Rick Famuyiwa
Cast:  Kerry Washington (Anita Hill), Wendell Pierce (Clarence Thomas), Erika Christensen (Shirley Wiegand), Zoe Lister-Jones (Carolyn Hart), Greg Kinnear (Joe Biden), Grace Gummer (Ricki Seidman), Jeffrey Wright (Charles Ogletree), Eric Stonestreet (Ken Duberstei), Kimberly Elise (Sonia Jarvis), Jennifer Hudson (Angela Wright), Alison Wright (Virginia Thomas).

Story:  Confirmation, the HBO original movie details the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings.  Kerry Washington portrays law professor Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.  With Wendell Pierce as Judge Thomas and Greg Kinnear as Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who presided over the hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Jeffrey Wright plays Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, Professor Hill’s lead attorney during the hearings.

Also Kimberly Elise plays Sonia Jarvis, a civil rights attorney on Anita Hill’s legal team. Jennifer Hudson portrays Angela Wright, another Thomas accuser.  Erika Christensen plays Shirley Wiegand, Hill’s close friend and Alison Wright portrays Ginni Thomas, Thomas’ wife.  Source:  Shadow and Act.




Selma teaser poster

Release Date:  January 9, 2015
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating: Unknown
Studio:  Paramount Pictures, Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films,
Harpo Films, Pathe, Plan B Entertainment, Lee Daniels Entertainment
Director:  Ava DuVernay

Cast:  David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Oprah Winfrey (Annie Lee Cooper), Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King), Lorraine Toussaint (Amelia Boynton), Giovanni Ribisi (Lee C. White), Tim Roth (George Wallace), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Fred Gray), Common (James Bevel), Tom Wilkinson (President Lyndon B. Johnson), Tessa Thompson (Diane Nash), Dylan Baker (J. Edgar Hoover), Wendell Pierce (Reverend Hosea Williams), Niecy Nash (Richie Jean Jackson), Lakeith Stanfield (Jimmie Lee Jackson).

Story:  The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement.  Source(s): AFI Fest.