September 7, 1996 was the last time Iron Mike Tyson walked out of the ring as a heavyweight champion. After defeating Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada the world’s youngest heavyweight was supposed to celebrate regaining the WBA title. But later that night his close friend Tupac Shakur was gunned down and died from his wounds six days later. The general public has not heard Tyson’s thoughts on the events of that night until now.
As part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series, director Reggie Rock Bythewood tells the story of that infamous night and shares the friendship between Tyson and Tupac in One Night In Vegas. The co-writer of the Notorious biopic spoke with TheUrbanDaily about what it was like to relive one of the most painful nights in hip-hop history.
TUD: What should people take away from this film? Is this more of a Tyson movie or a Pac movie?
Reggie Rock Bythewood: It’s an ESPN film but it doesn’t’ feel like anything that they’ve done before. It’s Pac heavy and Mike heavy. It’s really in many ways a collision of hip-hop and boxing. What I sought out to do was hold up a mirror and honestly reflect Mike and Pac. I shot it as much as I could like a graphic novel. In many ways I felt like Mike and Pac were these heroes out of a graphic novel. Not a comic book. Superheroes in a graphic novel are flawed and don’t always have a happy ending. When you peel away a couple of layers you realize they’re human. I really just wanted to offer a perspective about this night that maybe most of us have never considered or seen. One of the most significant moments in the documentary is when Dr. Maya Angelou talks about visiting Mike Tyson in jail and being on set with Tupac for Poetic Justice.
What was your relationship with Mike Tyson before and after this?
Really it was all business. On set he had been pretty guarded with me but when the camera comes on he just started opening up and revealing his feelings about his friend Pac. The thing that was interesting is that we had a premier (party) in Harlem at this community center on 123rd street and Mike came out and sat down and watched the film with a bunch of kids. It was almost like it changed him. He got up afterward on stage and really talked about how moved he was by the piece. At this age he can look back himself fourteen years ago, but unfortunately Pac couldn’t do the same.
I think sometimes when you go into it you have a preconceived idea about what you need for the film, but he started telling me stuff about Pac that I didn’t anticipate. The first time Mike met Pac was at the Palladium on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He saw this little skinny guy trying to get in the club and the bouncers wouldn’t let him in because he wasn’t dressed appropriately. So Mike told the bouncers to cut the guy some slack and so Pace gets in. Later on in the party Pac gets on stage and starts rocking it and that’s how their relationship was formed.
What were the challenges in telling a story that’s 14-years-old?
There is something I set out not to do. I did not set out to do a movie that reveals who [Tupac's] assailants were or any of that. I just set out to do a movie to show how Mike and other people were feeling that night. After the fight it was supposed to be a night of celebration and it came out a tragedy. The challenge is capturing that emotion 14 years later, but people talked about it like it just happened last week. You could see it in their eyes. From a film-making standpoint I didn’t want the film to just be talking heads so we had a little fun with it. We made it cinematic and used a lot of music with it and I even have some spoken word artists in there. So it’s real different for ESPN.
You co-wrote the screenplay to Notorious. How did that help you with this if at all?
These hip-hop stories just follow me. I remember when I first started out I was writing on A Different World, I had the Kris Kross episode. And on New York Undercover hip-hop was a centerpiece of that series that I was writing on. With Notorious what [I learned] was even icons are human beings. Even icons have flaws and weaknesses. People will expect a lot of edge and grit but we’ll challenged people’s perspectives of both men. I definitely think that we are getting a glimpse in to their world and this night that we haven’t seen before.
Watch excerpts from the documentary below: