Yasiin Bey has stepped back from his role portraying Thelonious Monk in an upcoming biopic after the jazz legend’s estate issued a statement to “condemn” the unauthorized film.
On Wednesday, production company Jupiter Rising Film revealed to Rolling Stone that the rapper-actor formerly known as Mos Def would play the title role in Thelonious, centered on “his 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.”
However, just hours after the biopic’s announcement, the Monk estate — and notably Thelonious’ son T.S. Monk — emailed a statement to Pitchfork slamming the film. “This project and its announcement are totally unauthorized! I hate the script and I control the music in Thelonious’ catalog,” T.S. Monk wrote. “There is no involvement by anyone in the Monk family with this project, and we actually condemn the effort.” (A rep for Jupiter Rising did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
Following the estate statement, Bey turned to Instagram to explain why he took on the role, and why he would step back from it:
“Let me be clear: If the Monk estate is not happy with it, if Mr. Monk the Third is not happy with it, then neither am I,” Bey said in the video. “To be clear, I was given every indication by the production company that the family was on board, which was one of my primary questions, and that the music [was cleared]… just as important as the music, if not more important, was that the family supported the project. I took them at their word, and clearly that wasn’t the case.”
However, Bey remained hopeful about the possibility of portraying Monk on the big screen, if the family allows: “Can’t lie, I’m super excited still if there’s an opportunity to tell this story, but in the right way, and only with the estate’s approval and full involvement and acceptance.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone Wednesday when Thelonious was announced, Bey said of the jazz legend, “A leader.A Lord.A shape in space.A man from a community of devotion who lives a simple life distant from society. The adjectives.can never be nouns.Love.is a verb.The Future has already happened.And Forever.is a current event.Jupiter and team.”