Photo of Zulay Henao as Vanessa del Rio in Datari Turner-Produced Biopic
Photo Credit: S & A

Photo of Zulay Henao as Vanessa del Rio in Datari Turner-Produced Biopic


An update on the Vanessa del Rio biopic we’ve been tracking since the initial announcement in 2013, when the project was in its fundraising stage.

As you can see in the Instagram embed above, a compare/contrast shot with the real del Rio on the left, and the actress cast to play her, Zulay Henao, on the right, which was posted on both the film’s Facebook page and Henao’s Instagram page this afternoon, with appropriate hashtags.

While it’s obviously too late to discuss, and I had/have absolutely no say in the casting of the film, and I’m sure Henao is a fine actress, I’ve always said that I think Rosario Dawson would’ve been better-suited for the role (even if only in terms of appearance). But I’m not involved in the making of the film, so I have no insider information on how it was cast. Maybe the filmmakers did approach Dawson but she wasn’t interested, and Zulay Henao was the next best thing.

No matter, she’s playing del Rio in the film, so, moving on…

The film will chronicle the porn star’s career set against the backdrop of NYC’s then gritty organized crime-controlled Times Square, during the tumultuous 1970s & 1980s.

Produced by Datari Turner (who recently inked a first-look deal with Lionsgate, ), and directed by Thomas Mignone, best known for his previous feature film "On The Doll," as well as several award-winning music videos for bands like Slipknot, Mudvayne, System Of A Down, and Sepultura, the del Rio production also counts RZA, Drea De Matteo ("Sons Of Anarchy," "The Sorpranos") and Taryn Manning ("Orange Is The New Black") as members of the cast.
Character breakdowns:

– RZA will portray a character who works the doors at the burlesque club where Vanessa dances. After hours, he secretly uses the club’s audio gear to pursue his true passion of music, laying down tracks and rhymes in what was then a fledgling form of music called rap.

– De Matteo will play the savvy madame who discovers the young, rebellious Vanessa on the streets of Times Square. Her character strikes a delicate balance between a tough-as-nails club owner and someone who sympathizes with, and tries to help the club’s adult performers living difficult, erratic lives.

– And Manning has been cast as Vanessa’s best friend and trusted confidante. Her character is a complex mix of street confidence, a perpetual optimism, while striving to avoid victimization.

The film will go beyond just del Rio’s life as a porn-star (although I’m sure there are lots of interesting stories there to tell), as it looks to provide a snapshot of New York City during those years in which she was at the top of her career. Central to the film’s story line are the federal government’s determined efforts to force organized crime businesses out of New York City and ultimately to the San Fernando Valley, while films, tv shows, and song lyrics were suddenly being censored, and politicians and adult-industry mavericks battled in the courts and on the streets.

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