'The BMF Documentary: Blowing Money Fast' delves into lives of Detroit brothers (2024)

Julie HindsDetroit Free Press

They were two brothers from southwest Detroit who, over the course of a few decades, went from “rags to riches to wretchedness, the American dream and the nightmare at the same time," as one source puts it in the new TV documentary about them.

Demetrius and Terry Flenory, former leaders of a drug empire known as the Black Mafia Family, are the subject of a currentStarz scripted drama, “BMF,” which is slated to return for a second season in January.

But one series about the Flenorys isn't enough for the pay-cable network. "The BMF Documentary: Blowing Money Fast," which starts Sunday night, is described in promotional materials as offering "exclusive access inside all the epic family feuds, high stakes drug deals, suspicious murders, and champagne drenched parties attended by hip-hop royalty."

Overall, it lives up to the billing.

The eight-part series is the brainchild of Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson, who also is responsible for bringing “BMF” to the small screen. Like that fictionalized version, the docuseries is a gripping, complicated story that echoes the tragic arc, criminal dealings and complex family dynamics of the "Godfather” movies.

When it arrived in September 2021,"BMF" received good reviews for taking a gritty yet nuanced look at the economic pressures that helped lead the Flenory brothers to crime in 1980s Detroit, an era when many legitimate doors to financial security were closed to young Black men.

Featuring a strong cast led by Demetrius (Lil Meech) Flenory Jr., who plays his own father (better known as Big Meech), and Da'Vinchi as Terry (aka “Southwest T), the drama's first season got the details of southwest Detroit right. That was thanks in no small part to showrunner Randy Huggins, a Detroit native and former Detroit schoolteacher who worked his way up the TV creative ladder on shows like “The Shield,” “The Unit” and “Power,” a major hit that spawned a franchise for Starz.

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Less than a week after itspremiere in September 2021, “BMF” got the ultimate vote of confidence from Starz with an immediate renewal. The upcoming season is expected to focus on the expansion of the Flenory brothers’ enterprise. Like the first season, which featured Snoop Dogg in the recurring role of a preacher and Eminem in a cameo, it also will be star-studded. The returning cast will be joined by Oscar-winning actor Mo’Nique, “Saturday Night Live” alum Leslie Jones, “Vampire Diaries” and “Arrow” star Kelly Hu and City Girls rapper Caresha (Yung Miami) Brownlee as new characters.

For the new docuseries, Jackson approached filmmaker Shan Nicholson, who did the well-received 2015 documentary “Rubble Kings" on 1970s gang violence in the Bronx, to lead the project as the showrunner. “This was his baby,” says Nicholson of Jackson’s involvement. “He sort of set the table from early on. He was very into the preproduction process, the story, and he also was in the edit (process) as well. He was key.”

Nicholson, in turn, reached out to another filmmaker, Chris Frierson of the vivid 2021 documentary "Don't Try To Understand: A Year in the Life of Earl 'DMX' Simmons," to share directing duties. Frierson, who grew up outside of East Lansing and whose family hails from Detroit, has long been interested in Motor City themes and is currently back in Michigan working on a film about a groundbreaking hip-hop musician.

“The BMF Documentary” takes a character-driven approach that’s often missing from true-crime stories. “The content immediately jumped out to me because I thought it was way more than just the typical, you know, drug dealer rise-and-fall story. It had so many more layers and twists and turns,” says Nicholson.

It took about nine months from start to finish to complete the project, which Nicholson says treats Detroit and Atlanta, which later became a major BMF site, as characters and as bellwethers of things happening in the rest of the country. “Detroit really felt like the soul of this show to me,” he adds.

Nicholson traveled to Detroit to interview key figures like Lucille Flenory, the mother of Demetrius and Terry, who shared her efforts to keep her sons out of trouble. “I felt like my children were easily influenced by other people, you know, with their flashy cars and jewelry,” she says in one clip. “But I would tell my children … that’s not the route to go. I would call it the devil’s way.”

After years of financial struggles, Lucille and her husband divorced, which took a toll on the family. She fights back tears in a segment where she talks about how Demetrius felt that he had to become the head of the household.

There also is commentary from Nicole Flenory, sister of the brothers, along with interviews with longtime friends, law enforcement members and Detroit experts like historian Jamon Jordan and journalist Scott Burnstein, a veteran chronicler of organized crime. Early on, a portrait emerges of how the Flenory family moved to Detroit in 1969, not long after the once-booming city was devastated by the 1967 uprising and just as factory jobs were drying up as the 1970s recession approached.

As Burnstein puts it in the first episode: “They got there at the end of the party.”

Rick Wershe Jr., whose own life story was the basis for the 2018 film “White Boy Rick” starring Matthew McConaughey, pops up for an interview. So do rap stars like T.I. and Jackson himself, who weigh in on BMF’s later Atlanta years.

Looming over everything is Demetrius Flenory, who can be heard through audio recordings speaking from the federal prison where he is expected to be released in 2028 (Terry Flenory was let out of prison in 2020 to serve the rest of his sentence inhome confinementbecause of COVID-19's spread in prisons.)

Where Terry was more reserved and private, his brother became a well-known figure who was name-dropped into several rap songs. “Meech especially, he had this aura about him. He still does. You talk to him on the phone, and he just has this charisma that people want to be around him. I talked to him maybe a couple dozen times, and every single time, I was like, 'Wow, I could listen to this guy forever,'" says Nicholson.

Frierson, who worked mostly on the Atlanta-themed episodes, notes that Demetrius wasn't one to hide his success. Inside the Georgia city, BMF became notoriousfor high-profile displays of wealth and lavish parties. At one time, there even were billboards on I-75 in downtown Atlanta that said: "The World is BMF's."

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“His persona, this legend, it’s almost like in folklore and mythology, the way that it’s been bandied about in hip-hop culture and Black culture over the past 30 years. ... He’s been sort of lionized in an interesting way,” says Frierson.

The docuseries benefits from a treasure trove of early Flenory family photos and later video footage of BMF’s excesses, footage that seems like a precursor to today's social media chronicles. “Everyone films themselves now. (But) that was something that started to become important (in the early 2000s), the understanding that these will be testaments to how great the things we are doing are,” says Frierson, who’s currently in Michigan working on a project about a groundbreaking hip-hop musician.

By the 2000s, as the documentary explains, Atlanta had become a Southern version of Motown and an unofficial hip-hop capital. This helped give Demetrius the leeway to live the life of his dreams, according to Nicholson, "whereas in Detroit, if you’re driving around in a $100,000 car or whatever, you ‘re going to be harassed by police or targeted by (car)jackers. ... People were just living a wealthier lifestyle in Atlanta, where he felt he could fit right in.”

Yet the brothers were influenced by their Detroit roots in how carefully they ran their drug network, says Frierson. ”They kind of operated from a mentality that, I think, is uniquely Detroit. ... The business that they were engaged in hurt people, but the way that they ran it was not that much different than the CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.”

Meech’s attempt to segue into a legitimate role as a music mogul with his company BMF Entertainment is traced back to his father’s dashed hopes of building a career in music. The docuseries also explores the symbiotic relationship between his interest in music and rap stars and their fascination with his reputation.

“Once he got to a certain point, involved with the rappers and this and that ... I think he wanted to emulate the stuff that you see in music videos. And at the same time, rappers who were meeting Big Meech were in awe of him. So he's, like, kind of at this cross point where the people he worships are worshipping him, so he’s trying to get in that game and they’re trying to be around him for some sort of credibility.”

In the late 2000s, efforts by authorities to take down BMF came to a head. In September 2008, Demetrius and Terrywere sentenced to 30 years in prison in federal court in Detroit. They already had "pleaded guilty to operating a continuing criminal enterprise involving high volume distribution of cocaine throughout the United States from 1990 through 2005," according to the Free Press.

In promotional materials, the eighth and final episode of "The BMF Documentary” involves how "Meech and Terry hope their legacy won’t be written with them behind bars.”

They might have been surprised back then to find out that their history would be covered by two TV shows.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at jhinds@freepress.com.

Series premiere

10 p.m. Sunday


Rated TV-MA

'The BMF Documentary: Blowing Money Fast' delves into lives of Detroit brothers (2024)
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