It was recently announced that a series produced by nine-time Grammy winner Mary J. Blige’s newly formed production company, Philly Reign, is set to debut on USA Network.
Executive produced by Blige, and written by “Empire” twin writing duo JaNeika and JaSheika James, the drama series, also titled “Philly Reign” will chronicle the life of South Philadelphia native Thelma Wright, a woman who rose to power as Philly’s “Queenpin” drug dealer during the 1980s.
Based in part on Wright’s 2011 book, “With Eyes From Both Sides: Living My Life in and Out of the Game,” “Philly Reign” is the story of how Wright, who attended Temple University and is now a motivational speaker, became the city’s top-ranking drug lord when her husband, Howard “Jackie” Wright, reportedly a former Black Mafia member, was found dead in a Germantown house, rolled up in a carpet with a gunshot to the head.
In an exclusive interview with The Philadelphia Tribune, Wright disclosed how her highly personal and unusual story came to the attention of Blige, whose own life has been touched by pain and turmoil.
“From my understanding, her assistant Nicole, saw the documentary on ‘Gangsters: America’s Most Evil,’ and Nicole said that in the past, Mary had been talking, I guess in free time, had been telling them stories about different things that went on in the Bronx with females,” said Wright, who is a co-executive producer of the project, along with her son Jacky. “Nicole suggested, ‘You know Mary, you should do something on women.’ Then Nicole saw the documentary and she recorded it, asked Mary to watch it, and from there Nicole contacted Mary’s agent to see if something like this could be possible, and that’s how the ball started rolling.”
With her upbeat attitude and pleasant persona, a conversation with Wright hardly conjures up the typical stereotype of a hardcore urban drug lord.
“I started dating my husband when I was 21 years old, and when he died it was actually the day before my 30th birthday,” Wright explained. “This was the life that I had become accustomed to, even though from a different angle — dating, and then becoming the mother of his child, us living together and then getting married — I was kind of removed from it, but I was around it, because this was how we lived. I knew that this was our bread and butter.
“So when my husband was killed, in the midst of planning for his funeral, and just trying to take care of myself as best as I can ... and my son, one of his associates comes to me to pay a debt that he owed, which is really kind of out of the ordinary, because in that game, people just don’t pay debts, especially after someone’s been killed, but my husband and this gentleman had been doing business for a long time. I know him pretty well, and he made the suggestion, ‘Hey, what are we going to do? We gotta keep going.’ And that was the furthest thing from my mind. l hadn’t even thought about that, but when I went to my husband’s connection, who was an older Asian woman at the time, I went to her and gave her the money and I said, ‘Well you know, they want to keep going. Do you think this is possible?’ And she said, ‘Yes we can.’ So basically, she did it, and kind of insulated me in a way that I would be safe.”
While things quickly went bad and Wright was allowed to leave the “business” behind, she says that “Philly Reign” will be brutally honest about that chapter in her life.
“We definitely are not going to glorify the story, but the story has to be told,” she said. “It’s basically a story of a woman’s survival after her husband is murdered.”
This was the life that she knew. This was the life that she was accustomed to through her husband, and the ball was pretty much dropped in her lap to take over that business. It wasn’t something that she was looking to do. It just happened.
“The story is to basically get the word out that even though things look really good or it may look easy, all that glitters is not gold. So it’s the story of a woman’s survival. She does what she needs to do to take care of her son and to take care of herself.”
“What I’d like the readers to know is that we all make mistakes. I feel like you live and you learn and you grow and you mature. And what I’d really like people to know is what I’m doing now. That I have the Thelma Wright Foundation for empowering at-risk teen girls and women, and I’m strongly involved with prison reform and second chances and things like that.”