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Is Black Bird Based On A True Story?

The crime drama miniseries "Black Bird," developed for television by Dennis Lehane, premiered on July 8, 2022 on Apple TV+. The series featured eight episodes total, wrapping up its run on August 5, 2022. The series follows Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton), a former high school football star, who, after being sentenced to 10 years in a minimum security prison is given a choice for the time he must do: either he can relocate to a maximum security prison for the criminally insane and befriend suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) in order to get Larry to confess to another crime (and, if he does, then Jimmy gets to leave), or stay at the minimum security prison and serve his ten years with no possibility of parole. Alongside Egerton and Hauser, the series features supporting performances from Sepideh Moafi and Greg Kinnear, as well as the late Ray Liotta in his final role before his death.

The series received rave reviews — it currently holds a near-perfect 97% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, next to a 96% audience score. All in all, it's clear that the compelling story resonated with critics and viewers alike.

For, so those curious, is "Black Bird" based on a true story?

Black Bird is based on true events

"Black Bird" is based on the 2010 autobiographical book "In with the Devil: a Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption" by James Keene and Hillel Levin, which recounts Keene's real life experiences of trying to get a confession from serial killer Larry Hall. According to Newsweek, Keene, who had been working as a drug dealer, was caught by local law enforcement and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) in 1996 and sentenced to ten years in prison without possibility of parole. Just like in the series, Keene was given the option of getting out of his prison sentence if he was able to elicit a confession from Larry Hall. Reluctant to participate at first, Keene ultimately agreed after his father had a stroke, motivated by the idea of getting to spend time with him.

Hall had been arrested in 1995 for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old named Jessica Roach on the basis of a confession — which he later tried to backtrack. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Beaumont then became determined to get Hall to confess again to killing Roach, as well as to the many other killings of young girls that he was suspected of, namely that of Tricia Reitler, who had disappeared in 1993.

Keene was able to get Hall to confess to killing Roach, then, after some time, to killing Reitler as well. Keene was then released from prison early in 1999, with his criminal record erased. After being released, Keene was able to spend five years with his father before his father died.

Egerton talked to the real Keene before playing him

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in July of 2022, Egerton discussed getting to talk to the real James Keene ahead of portraying him on screen. Egerton began by noting that Keene was extremely kind about Egerton taking on the role and clearly understood that some liberties would be taken to tell a version of the real events in the series. In fact, he sees his character of Keene as different from the real Keene.

Egerton explained, "I think when it comes to some of the darker aspects of Jimmy's nature in our story, it would be remiss of me to claim that they are taken from him because I think he's a better adjusted, more kind of likable guy than the Jimmy I create at the start of the story. But that, it's important to have a character arc ... when he was around we'd chat and the overwhelming impression you get from him is just what a kind of stressful, traumatic thing it was."

As to what drew him to playing Keene in the first place, Egerton told FilmFare, also in July of 2022, that it was the complexity of the character that caught his eye. Egerton said, "He's challenging, he's a problematic flawed man and in some ways, he's not a man, he's a boy at the start of the story who thinks he's the biggest man in the world." The actor added that he was also drawn to the fact that Keene's arc includes him having to find a sense of humility.

All eight episodes of "Black Bird" are available to stream on Apple TV+.