How Two Films About the Late B.B. King Caused a Bit of A Stir: See How It All Started

by Jamila Lizet White

October 28, 2020

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The blues legend was wrong: the thrill isn’t gone. Especially after it was announced that two films are being made of the late singer-guitarist, B.B. King. Confusion ensued earlier this week when Wendell Pierce tweeted on Oct. 19 that before King passed in 2015, the actor promised that he would “honor him and his creative genius.”

Three days following his initial post, The Wire actor tweeted that the B.B. King estate requested that he clarify that the film, The Thrill Is On, is separate from the upcoming biopic that is being produced by the estate.

Vassal Benford, the chairman of King’s estate, told Variety that the official biopic of the blues musician would be going into pre-production in 2021 and will focus on his life. Although the estate has considered Pierce to portray King, they are still in the process of selecting an actor and even name-dropped the Saturday Night Live star, Kenan Thompson.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Meanwhile, The Thrill Is On is set to be a drama revolving around the friendship between the Mississippi native and drummer Michael Zanetis. The project tells the true story of how their friendship resulted in the Rock Me Baby singer to be the first blues artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Zanetis, who also co-wrote and produced the docudrama, told Variety that “I am not qualified to write a biopic of Mr. King’s life, but this decade of his life is a chapter I lived with him.” He added, “Our friendship flourished until our last visit in 2011.”

Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns

“We want to be crystal clear that the film announced by Pierce is not a biopic, as there are several major players involved in the new B.B. King biopic and the estate does not want there to be any confusion as to the nature of each separate project,” Benford clarified to Variety. “One is a docudrama, and the other is the official B.B. King biopic approved by corporate management of the B.B. King estate and trust as a part of B.B. King’s legacy initiative.”

Although Pierce has solidified his position as King in The Thrill Is On since 2009, it has not been an easy road for the 56-year-old actor. Back in 2012 when the film was originally titled B.B. King and I, Zanetis sued King after he received a cease-and-desist order from the guitarist’s representatives. Nonetheless, Pierce and Zanetis have said that the legend himself has given them his blessing to move forward with the film.

Tell us: Which film are you looking forward to most?

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