Donnell Ross, better known as “Freeway” Rick Ross wouldn’t argue with the
suggetion that he once had, one could say, an infamous past.
the 1980s, Ross ran a drug trafficking empire that stretched from the South
across the Midwest to Washington State, and employed thousands of employees.
the story gets even more complex when it was revealed that Ross’ organization
was involved with the rather complicated Iran Contra scandal during the Reagan
presidency, in which the White House approved sales of weapons to Iran, which was
under an arms embargo, when the country was at war with Iraq, and at the same
time funded Nicaraguan Contras, a rebel military group fighting the leftist
Sandinista government running the country.
was later sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996, though released in 2009, and since
then, has been working to keep young people from following the path that he
Ross, along with veteran TV and film producer Mark Wolper (Bates Motel – whose
father, the legendary TV producer David Wolper, produced the ABC mini-series Roots) and Antonio Moore, managing member of Freeway Studios, have announced that they
are planning a cable TV mini-series about the story of Ross, his drug empire
and his downfall.
was briefly revealed in an article about Ross “Say Hello to Rick Ross” in the
current 80th anniversary issue of Esquire magazine, but Ross, Wolper
and Moore wanted to talk to me to give S&A all the exclusive details about
So tell us what is the story behind this project.
heard Rick Ross’ story, which oddly enough as a student of history I was not
familiar with, his personal story and his journey through this whole thing. So
I became familiar with it, and for the last two years I’ve been chasing him and
convinced him that there is a mini-series or a limited series in his story. A
story of the African-American experience in urban Los Angeles during the 1980’s
and the whole Iran-Contra scandal through this pretty amazing period of time in
America. So we have finally, as of a couple of days ago, come to an agreement,
after discussing this for several years, and now we are going to go out and
turn this into a big mini-series.
this will be for a cable network.
this will be for cable. I don’t think ABC or CBS would have the bravery to do
such as an important project.
you in negotiations right now with a particular network that you can reveal at
can’t right now, but we are in very serious discussions with two right now at
this moment. I can’t say who they are, but there are people who are interested
I have to say that you know people will read this and say “What, again? Another film project about a drug dealer? Is that all
we can get? Can’t you do something else instead? Enough is enough”. What’s your response to that?
here in Detroit and I just finished speaking to students at Central High School and I delivered a message to these young
people that they have never heard before. You see, they don’t understand why they
want to be drug dealers. They don’t understand why they want to be thugs. I believe
that through the eyes of my story they’re going to understand where the
brutality comes from that they hear on the radio. They’re going to understand why three rappers
have taken my name and used it in some form or fashion. And I think my story is going to explain to everybody
how they got to the point where they are today. And that why this story is a
“must” story. And not only is it a “must” story, but it’s going to get told.
And let me add that in Esquire’s their new anniversary issue
this month they said they covered my story because of its impact on America and
its unique range. It is not just another drug story. It’s the story that
explains the drug game and its creation top to bottom.
what I want to say, in addition, is that we’re basing this story on the
biographical book that Cathy Scott
is writing; and this story is the things at the end of The Wire. I mean we’ve had The Wire, but we’ve never had something
of this scale and of this context and the depth of history in terms of factual
proof based on government documents and what really happened. So I think this story’s
scale and depth takes it beyond just being a drug dealer’s story, but into a
story with a human element and an American history element which is much
There have been many films and shows about drug dealers, black, white, Asian,
Mexican, Russian, whatever race you can imagine. The thing that makes this
story important, to my mind, is that this is a true story of a young man who is pawned
into being involved with something that was bigger than himself and he didn’t know
it. This is a story that has to be told to young Americans today. Not just
African-American America, all of America.
It says, be careful what you believe, because it may not be what it
then I must then ask another question and this is especially aimed at Rick.
There are people who say that you don’t seem to feel any remorse for what
you’ve done or the lives you have destroyed, and now it looks like you’re about
to make even more money, with this film project, on top of the money
you made before, with no second thoughts or regrets.
Well the first thing I would say is that I went to prison and I did my time.
And not only do I have remorse, I’m right now going around making amends, trying to derail the system that is still setting up young innocents, setting young
boys and girls up. Just like Mark just said, be careful what you ask
for because sometimes you get what isn’t expected. And I believe right now with our
music industry, they’re really promoting a lifestyle that I don’t want
anyone to live.
MOORE: I totally
agree with you. And one of the things that I think Rick’s story definitely does
is that it brings an integrity to the view of mass incarceration through
humanity. And the reason why I say that is because so often drug dealers have
been portrayed as superheroes who can beat anybody up. And Rick’s story takes this back down to the human level as a boy who became a drug dealer and how did this
happen. How did we allow that to happen in our families, in our communities and
almost lawful on a governmental level?
And I believe the show can go far in giving better light
to the Trayvons of the world as being seen not just through violent action, so
they are not just seen through a light of criminality but instead as people, as
Americans. It’s funny how all people can really connect with humanity, when it
is displayed in a form they understand. Television is such a powerful medium It
can allow people to see other ways of thinking through showing a different form
of imagination than they had thought possible.
WOLPER: And I’ve never said this to
Rick before, but I believe that Rick is neither a hero nor a victim. Usually
those stores are making someone a hero or making someone a victim. Rick Ross
was neither. Rick took the only thing that was put in front of him and he took
it and turned it into a business not knowing that he was a pawn. So the story of
a pawn is not the story of a hero and it’s not the story of a victim. Because a victim would have died or gotten shot in South Central L.A. A hero would
have not done what he did or figured out a way to survive. But he had neither of those options. He took what was in front of him.
The only thing that was available to him that someone put in front of him. An amazing
deal that he didn’t understand why, he didn’t ask why, he just did it. And he
became a pawn in something that was bigger than himself. As I said before, be
careful where you step because you might be stepping into a bear trap.
is part of the reason why we chose Wolper Productions because of their immense history in television as whole, but particularly to African American stories as they
did with Roots and Roots: The Next Generation and with Queen. What we saw in their vision of how the story is beyond
just the drug element, but into the actual human element.
Roots, Alex Haley would say he “did
not set out to make a political statement, rather to tell a truly American
Story.” He accomplished that
goal and got over 130 million viewers (that was over 60 % of all of America)
and the highest rated series of all time.
But he also led to progressive thought in the black
community about their history, and deeper thought in the white community about
how deeply black history was intertwined with American History. We believe by
telling a great American story we can do that as well.