Yasiin Bey Will Play Thelonious Monk in a New Biopic

Monk's family say the project and its announcement are "totally unauthorized"

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jul 21, 2021

A new biopic on revered jazz pianist Thelonious Monk has been announced, with Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) in the starring role.

UPDATE (7/22): T.S. Monk, son of Thelonious Monk, has told Pitchfork that the film is not authorized by the late musician's estate. "This project and its announcement are totally unauthorized! I hate the script and I control the music in Thelonious' catalog," Monk wrote in an email. "There is no involvement by anyone in the Monk family with this project, and we actually condemn the effort."

In a video, Yasiin Bey said, "Let me be clear, if the Monk Estate is not happy with it, if Mr. Monk III is not happy with it, then neither am I. To be clear, I was given every indication by the production company that the family was on board. It was one of my primary questions."
Rolling Stone reports that Jupiter Rising Film will begin production on Thelonious next summer, with producers Peter Lord Moreland and Alberto Marzan telling the publication that the film will centre on Monk's "struggles for musical success, mental illness, and the spiritual love triangle between his wife, Nellie, and one of the world's richest women, Nica Rothschild."

"It's the story that today's world needs," Marzan told Rolling Stone. "This is not a simple story about a Black jazz pianist that gets fame, does drugs, and dies. They will understand the genius Thelonious was and how the world changed after him for good."

"A leader.A Lord.A shape in space.A man from a community of devotion who lives a simple life distant from society," Bey told Rolling Stone in an email. "The adjectives.can never be nouns.Love.is a verb.The Future has already happened.And Forever.is a current event.Jupiter and team."

Marzan shared that upon Bey's name coming up for consideration at a development meeting for the film, there was a silence that I will never forget...We all envisioned him."

"This needed to be somebody that understood Thelonious' music on an intimate level," he continued. "It needed to be someone who understood the life and challenges of being a musician, a Black man in this universe. Yasiin has Thelonious' morals and focus on what matters."

"Yasiin lives his life with a vibe not easily found in Hollywood, because he's not Hollywood, point blank," Marzan added. "His values and moral compass are intentional and focused on what really matters. Everyone who knows his body of work has seen him boldly transform himself from his music to the Broadway stage, the silver screen and beyond. When he looked at me and said, 'I am Thelonious,' I knew we had found him."

Bey previously played Chuck Berry in Darnell Martin's 2008 film Cadillac Records. Earlier this year, he shared new music as Blackstar with Talib Kweli.

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