There's a Second Tupac Biopic in the Works, Which Should Surprise No One
There's a biopic currently in production about Tupac, and it's giving me a weird sense of deja vu. Tupac's cousin, William Lesane, is making plans for a movie based on Tupac Shakur's life. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. There's already a Tupac biopic that's long been in the works. That film is being directed by John Singleton, and Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, is also involved. Lesane has raised $15 million and plans to shoot in New Mexico, but currently it seems that no one else is attached to the project, and Lesane is quiet on whether he even has the rights to use Shakur's music in the movie.
It sounds a little ridiculous, but it's actually extremely common. As hilarious as the "Jackie Jormp Jormp" bit in 30 Rock was, it's actually pretty close to the truth. The world of music biopics is often just a competition of who can get there first: who can get the film together first, who can get the life rights first, who can get the music rights first. And even if both films make it to theatres, it's often the one who gets there first that wins.
It seems that there's more competing music biopics in production now than ever. Not only are there two competing Tupac biopics, but there's also two competing, high-profile films about Jimi Hendrix: All By My Side starring Outkast's Andre 3000 already premiered at South by Southwest, and another biopic starring Anthony Mackie has recently been resurrected and put into production.
Anthony Mackie's biopic, tentatively titled Jimi, was halted because of a common problem many biopics have: disagreements with the subject's estate. Usually, blessings from the estate result in a better-produced film, but its often at the expense of revealing some of the subject's dark side. That may be the case with the competing projects about Jeff Buckley: one, called Greetings from Tim Buckley, stars Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley and explores the relationship between the musician and his father; the other is helmed by Ridley Scott's son Jake and has full permissions from Buckley's estate, although those who have read the script say it's a little fluffy.
And then, of course, there's the revolving array of biopics about Janis Joplin. It turns out that 30 Rock was frighteningly accurate — Joplin's estate, chiefly her sister Laura Joplin, are loath to give out any rights to the singer's life. Laura reportedly wants to downplay the drugs that ultimately led to her sister's death and play up the positive aspects of her personality. There's been several Janis Joplin biopics in production over the years, and right now there are two: the currently titled Joplin with Nina Arianda in the titular role (and rights to 21 of the singer's songs) and Lee Daniel's Get it While You Can, with Amy Adams playing Joplin.
These competing biopics highlight why it's so difficult to get a decent music biopic produced. The world of music biopics is a world full of compromises: truthfulness for music rights, dark and compelling problems for the blessing of the estate. Most of these projects never see the light of day, and since Lesane is already behind in the breakneck competition of music biopics, it's doubtful his Tupac biopic will ever make it to theaters. You might as well just have a character named "Toopak" rap "From the Bassinet to the Tomb" and be done with it.