Today in film history, July 13, 2007, “Talk to Me” – the biographical film about Washington, D.C. radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene, an ex-con who became a popular talk show host and community activist – and Dewey Hughes, his friend and manager, opened in USA theaters, in a limited release.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, from a script penned by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa (yes, Rick Famuyiwa of “Dope” fame, who is also attached to direct the WB’s Flash superhero movie), “Talk to Me” covers the years between 1966 and 1984, ending with the death of Greene, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1982. He died on January 10, 1984, thirteen days before his 53rd birthday. He was survived by his wife, Judy C. Greene, and their four children. A reported 10,000+ mourners lined up outside Union Wesley AME Zion Church to pay their last respects.
The film premiered as the opening night film of the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, on June 22, 2007, leading up to its North America limited release on July 13, 2007, expanding nationwide on August 3, 2007.
Don Cheadle stars as Greene, with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Dewey Hughes.
They were joined in front of the camera by Taraji P. Henson as Vernell Watson; Cedric the Entertainer as “Nighthawk” Bob Terry; Mike Epps as Milo Hughes; Martin Sheen as E.G. Sonderling; and Vondie Curtis Hall as Sunny Jim Kelsey.
The film was mostly well-reviewed by critics, earning an 82% score on Rotten Tomatoes, although I found it underwhelming, and ultimately forgettable. Not that it’s a poor film, but I don’t think it’s one that Cheadle and Lemmons will be remembered for. I felt that there was a much stronger, impactful film about the man’s life that could’ve been made, given his incredible life story. But that’s just one man’s opinion.
It was reported that Greene’s surviving family members did not cooperate with the making of the film and criticized it for taking liberties with his story and portrayal. In response, Joe Fries, a producer of the film, released a statement saying that the film was “inspired by” Greene, and not a factual retelling of his life.
So it goes…
For their work, Cheadle was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, Ejiofor won a Best Supporting Male Spirit Award; and the film won the Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast that year.
The film is accessible via various home video platforms, although it’s not streaming on Netflix nor Hulu. So You’ll have to rent of buy the disc if you haven’t seen it; or want to revisit to.
What is available to stream online is a documentary on the real Ralph “Petey” Greene that the film was based on. The two-time Emmy Award-winner overcame drug addiction and a prison sentence for armed robbery to become one of the most celebrated media personalities in Washington, DC, tackling tough subjects like racism, identity, poverty, drug usage, and more, in his inimitable in-your-face style – something that his fans loved about him.
The documentary, which comes courtesy of PBS, is titled “Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene.” Released in 2008, it was directed by Loren Mendell, and featured contributions from a host of media personalities contributing, with (not-so coincidentally) Don Cheadle narrating.
The film is online, in full (it’s an hour-long), and can be watched below: