'BMF' brings larger than life Detroit crime saga to small screen
Premiering Sunday, "BMF" brings the story of the notorious Detroit drug and money laundering organization to Starz.
Demetrius 'Lil Meech' Flenory was 17-years-old when 50 Cent encouraged him to enroll in acting classes.
50 had acquired the rights to the story of the Black Mafia Family, the notorious Detroit-based drug trafficking and money laundering organization which operated in 11 states and reaped more than $270 million in profits, and he wanted Flenory — the son of BMF kingpin Demetrius 'Big Meech' Flenory — to play his father in the series.
"He saw something in me before I could see it, before anyone else in the world could see it," says the young Flenory, who was headed to study business at UNLV before 50 came calling.
Now he's starring in "BMF," the crime saga where he assumes the role of his father. The show's eight-episode first season — which traces the rise of the elder Meech and his brother, Terry 'Southwest T' Flenory, in the streets of Detroit in the 1980s — premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on Starz.
In addition to Flenory, "BMF" stars familiar faces Steve Harris ("The Practice"), Russell Hornsby ("The Hate U Give"), Wood Harris ("The Wire") and Detroit rapper Kash Doll, and features cameos from Snoop Dogg (who plays a pastor) and Eminem (who makes an appearance as Richard "White Boy Rick" Wershe Jr.). Relative newcomer Da'Vinchi plays the role of Terry Flenory, and the series unfolds as a period crime saga that is both dramatic and darkly humorous.
Taking on the role of his father was enlightening for Lil Meech, and offered a history lesson in more ways than one.
"We were filming in the 1980s era in Detroit — this is 20 years before I was born — and fashion was different, music was different, everything was different. So it was fun, and it was eye-opening," says Flenory, on the phone from Atlanta earlier this week.
"It also helped me learn more about my dad," he says. "Being his child, being able to live through his childhood, at 15-, 16-years-old, he lived a totally different life than me. I went to private school, and he had to drop out of high school because he was too embarrassed to go to school with holes in his shoes, because he grew up so poor. So it was crazy putting myself in his shoes and living through him for that period in time, and actually being able to walk the same footsteps he walked."
Shooting took place from January to April of this year under tight COVID protocols. Atlanta mostly stands in for the Motor City, although production was able to squeeze in about five days of shooting in Detroit, which was essential for showrunner and Detroit native Randy Huggins.
"I really wanted to shoot in my hometown, but I wasn't able to shoot the entire thing in the city, so the biggest thing was making sure we could shoot as much as we could there," says Huggins, who has also worked on "Criminal Minds," "Prime Suspect" and "Power," the latter of which put him in the orbit of 50 Cent, who called on him to helm "BMF."
Huggins, a former elementary school teacher before transitioning to the entertainment industry, was proud to be able to shoot in high profile areas such as Hart Plaza and Belle Isle, as well as some parts of the city he had yet to explore.
"I had never been to the part of southwest Detroit where they were at, and that's weird, because I think I've been on every street in Detroit," says Huggins. "But when they took me over there where Ecorse, River Rouge and Detroit all meet, I was like, 'Oh my God, I have never been over here in my life.'"
Researching and building the show meant having a lot of conversations with Big Meech, who is currently serving a 30-year sentence in an Oregon prison. (His sentence was reduced earlier this year, and he's on track to be released in 2028.)
"We talked as much as we could, and those phone calls are only like 10 minutes at a time," says Huggins. "And then I went to see him like three or four times, and we built up a trust between us."
The specific details of the time period were important to Meech — "if there's lyrics in the music it's not real, because the music we were listening to was all beat-driven," Huggins was told — as well as to Huggins, who grew up in the same era in the city as the Flenory brothers.
And those details in the series are rich, from conversations at Coney Islands to visible cans of Faygo pop to shots and mentions of Cobo Arena, Boblo Island, the Uniroyal Tire, Marathon's oil refinery and the now defunct Club Taboo. Characters watch "The Scene" on television and greet each other by saying "whatupdoe." The series feels like Detroit.
Shooting in the city connected Flenory, who grew up in Miami, to his family history.
"We filmed at my grandmother's house that my dad and uncle grew up in, and I got to walk the same steps that my father and uncle got to walk," says Flenory, who was born in 2000. "My grandmother was actually on set watching us, and everything hit so close to home for her that she couldn't stop crying."
There was also the immense pressure of portraying his father on screen. Flenory — who attended acting classes for two years, five days a week, two times a day to learn his craft — spoke with his father every day during shooting, and he sees "BMF" as a chance to shed light on the story of his dad beyond the headlines.
"I really just wanted to do it right, you know?" says Flenory, who despite being hand-picked by 50 still had to audition for the role. "He wanted to show the world the real him. People don't understand the real Big Meech, they don't know who he really is. They only know what they hear, they only know the glamorized lifestyle of the cars, the money, the fame. They don't know how he started off poor and wasn't able to pay for anything. The choices he made back then are what shaped him and molded him into the person he is today. So people get a chance to see the origin story."
Lil Meech says his father has yet to see the series. "He'll be watching on Sunday," he says — likely, as will a lot of other Detroiters.
9 p.m. Sunday