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IANS Review: 'Black Mafia Family': Effortless performances elevate this series (IANS Rating: ***)

 
By Troy Ribeiro
Film: Black Mafia Family (Streaming on Lionsgate Play). Duration: 50 minutes per episode (eight episodes in all).



Director: Solvan 'Slick' Naim. Cast: Russell Hornsby, Da'Vinchi, Michole Briana White, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Ajiona Alexus, Myles Truitt, Steve Harris, Demetrius 'Lil Meech' Flenory, Jasun Jabbar Wardlaw, Jr., Kash Doll, Johnnie Gardon, Jaylon Gordon, Snoop Dogg.

IANS Rating: ***

'Black Mafia Family' is a partially fictionalised and partially true story of the Flenory brothers -- Demetrius aka 'Big Meech' and Terry, who grew up in a righteous family but became mobsters in Detroit, USA, building one of the largest cocaine empires in American history.

Narrated in a non-linear manner, this eight-part series is the re-telling of the complex and complicated lives of the brothers, "chasing the American dream", and the choices that they made.

But at the very onset, through a slate that quotes Demetrius 'Big Meech' Flenory, we are told, "We didn't choose the hustle. The hustle chose us. It was the only way to better our living situation and end poverty right then." This quote channelises the audience to view the series with a positive and humane perspective.

The series begins in Detroit 2005, with the flashy, fur-laden 'Big Meech' returning to his roots in the southwest part of Detroit. When he is recognised by one of his lads, Demetrius claims, "Nothing seems to have changed."

Then, upon seeing the public frolicking, he gets nostalgic, and we hear his heavy voice-over saying, "Given that everything has happened, people always ask if I had any regrets.ATo this I say, I don't."

Then in a quick sequence, we are shown the bonding between the brothers, and gradually as the episodes roll on, we realise how Terry follows in the footsteps of his elder brother into the drug business. The script lays bare the facts of what the entire family had to endure because of the stubbornness of their two sons and "the worst lies we tell ourselves".

Despite the narrative being shown from Demetrius's point of view, it fails to tell us how he got into the trade in the first place. It also fails to show us how his parents got to know of his involvement in the drug trade and their initial reaction.

Given that, he says, "Nothing worth having ever comes easy. It is like that with love. It was like that in the streets. And it is like that trying to get my freedom." The script does not elaborate on how he got the freedom to pursue his dream vocation. The telling, as a result, appears lukewarm and dull.

The only time the writing tugs at your heartstrings is when you witness the turmoil in the lives of the parents, Charles Flenory (Russell Hornsby) and Lucille (Michole Briana White), who have done their best to stop their children from hitting the streets, and are at loggerheads with each other because of their sons. ATold across three different periods -- as children, young adults, and seasoned veterans -- the bulk of the narrative is staged through the middle timeline, where the son of the actual 'Big Meech', Demetrius 'Lil Meech' Flenory, essays his father and Da'Vinchi plays Terry.AJohnnie and Jaylon Gordon play the younger versions of the brothers.

The on-screen chemistry between the two brothers is palpable, and apart from that, the entire cast is natural, intense, and they deliver effortless performances. Their acting elevates this series, which otherwise would have been just another tale of the streets.

--IANS
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