Rick Ross Mark Wolper

Rick Donnell Ross, better known as “FreewayRick Ross wouldn’t argue with the suggetion that he once had, one could say, an infamous past.

During the 1980s, Ross ran a drug trafficking empire that stretched from the South across the Midwest to Washington State, and employed thousands of employees.

But 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.

Ross 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 took.

Now 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.

The project 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 the mini-series.

SERGIO: So tell us what is the story behind this project.

WOLPER I 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.

I assume this will be for a cable network.

WOLPER: Absolutely this will be for cable. I don’t think ABC or CBS would have the bravery to do such as an important project.

Are you in negotiations right now with a particular network that you can reveal at this point?

WOLPER: We 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 in it.

Now 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?

ROSS: I’m 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.

MOORE: And 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 different actually.

WOLPER: 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 seems.

O.K. 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.

ROSS: 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.

MOORE: This 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.

WOLPER: With 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.