Barry accuses local reporters of profiting from his life story


Ward 8 council member Marion Barry arrives at a news conference in Southeast in this file photo. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

D.C. Council member Marion Barry is making more waves on social media, using his Twitter account on Friday to launch a tirade against HBO and local news reporters consulting on the cable network’s slow-moving biography of the “Mayor for Life.”

Barry’s beef? White men, he says, are trying to profit off his life story.

Driving Barry’s urgency, he says, is the planned release of his autobiography next month: “Mayor for Life.”

“It’s really sad that @HBO solicits two white men to write a story about my life, profit therefrom, and has not talked to me once,” Barry said in a tweet.

It's really sad that @HBO solicits two white men to write a story about my life, profit therefrom, and has not talked to me once.

— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) May 2, 2014

@SpikeLee I've always respected YOU & a filmmaker but I'm disgusted that @hbo is trying to tell MY life w/o working w/the 1 who lived it.

— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) May 2, 2014

Some white people really do think they should tell the history of black experiences. Sad paternalists. We can speak for ourselves.

— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) May 2, 2014

Barry said he hopes to grant his own movie rights for an authorized, feature-length film based on the book. His plan to seek a screenwriter for his authorized biography was first reported Thursday by Washington City Paper.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Barry said he was willing to take his campaign against HBO “national” for its unauthorized biography project.

“I’m very upset. I talked to the president of HBO about nine months ago ... and I’m getting ready to put a call in to him again,” Barry said.

A spokesman for HBO said in an e-mail that he was not readily familiar with the project but would seek an update on the years-old project.

“What it is you have are two white men trying to exploit a black man, and I’m not going to stand for it,” Barry said. “I’m going to get the civil rights groups, the Urban League. I may even have to fly out to Los Angeles to get the NAACP out there on board.”

The HBO project has been simmering since at least 2011. The Post reported then that Spike Lee had a deal with HBO to direct a Barry biopic starring Eddie Murphy.

Local political reporters Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood were tapped as consultants based on “Dream City,” their 1994 book about D.C. politics, which the network said would be source material.

An e-book version of “Dream City” was released last week and, on Thursday, Washington City Paper reported HBO had brought on novelist George Pelecanos, of the “The Wire” and “Treme,” to help.

Barry’s book — “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.” — is available for pre-release orders.

Barry said he was referring to Sherwood and Jaffe as the two white men profiting from his life story. In another tweet, he also said he was “disgusted” by Lee’s reported involvement in the unauthorized project.

Sherwood, a reporter for WRC (Channel 4) who covered Barry as a Post staff writer, addressed the former mayor’s comments Friday afternoon on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU (88.5 FM).

“I just have the greatest respect for” Barry, Sherwood said. “I know the whole story, we told it in ‘Dream City.’ But that doesn’t mean that I sugarcoat anything he says or does that I think is not good or … is shown not to be good.”

Sherwood said that HBO bought rights to “Dream City” and that his contract allows HBO to consult with the authors but that they are not ongoing, paid contributors. Sherwood said he has had only two meetings regarding the project and no interaction with writers about the story line. It is “HBO’s decision what they do with this movie,” Sherwood said.

Nnamdi said he didn’t think that Barry would be happy if some books about him by African American authors were used for an HBO movie, either.

“The former mayor was protesting that he doesn’t think that the history of himself, or of black people, should be written by white people,” Nnamdi said. “But I do not think that he would like to use our former analyst Jonetta Rose Barras’s book, ‘The Last of the Black Emperors,’ about Marion Barry, because even though she is African American, I do not think he would like them to use that book, either.” Barras is currently a Washington Post columnist.

According to excerpts from “Mayor for Life,” Barry refers to his 1990 arrest for possession of crack cocaine as “the night of embarrassment.”

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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