How 'Get On Up' Gets James Brown's Manager Wrong

From left: Ben Bart, James Brown, Jack Bart and NAACP president Roy Wilkins
From left: Ben Bart, James Brown, Jack Bart and NAACP president Roy Wilkins
 Universal Attractions Agency

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Get On Up.]

In a poignant scene in Get On Up, James Brown is shown shoveling dirt on his manager Ben Bart’s coffin. It’s a touching, rare moment in which Brown is shown caring for someone other than himself. Unfortunately, according to Bart’s son Jack, it’s not true — and the Godfather of Soul wasn’t even at the funeral in question.

That’s just one of many alleged inaccuracies in the film, Jack Bart and Jeff Allen — who now runs the elder Bart’s old agency Universal Attractions — tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Allen says that the film inaccurately suggests that Brown took the lead in making business decisions, including changing the way his concerts were promoted.

“The truth is … that was Ben’s idea and Ben’s expertise because he started as a club owner and a concert promoter,” Allen says. “So where they portray Ben as kind of following James Brown’s lead, it was the other way around. Everything that Brown knew or learned or accomplished was through Ben Bart’s tutelage.” Bart’s support for his talented client isn’t accurately portrayed, making it seem “as if Brown gave Ben a free ride,” Allen adds.

Get On Up also diminishes the elder Bart’s role in Brown’s discovery, Bart’s son says. The film suggests that producer/talent scout Ralph Bass discovered Brown, something the younger Bart calls “totally inaccurate.”

In reality, Jack Bart says his father got a call from a club owner in Atlanta who told him, “There’s a young fellow down here by the name of James Brown that is a great dancer and … he’s got a lot of potential. You should come down and take a look at him.”

Ben Bart then flew to Atlanta, saw Brown and signed him. “That’s how James Brown was discovered,” Jack Bart says. By way of comparison, the movie doesn’t even introduce the character of Ben Bart until he meets with James Brown later in his career and urges him to go solo.

To be fair, Bass has been credited by many for discovering Brown, with even the late musician noting in his autobiography that Bass signed him and his then band the Famous Flames before Bart came on board.

Bart’s son and Allen claim they were never contacted by anyone affiliated with the production, meaning Dan Aykroyd's portrayal of the elder Bart may be due to a lack of information.

There are some parts of the film that ring true, Jack Bart says, claiming he’s fine with Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Brown and the scene in which Brown is arrested following a police chase. He also suggests that the film effectively conveys Brown’s ego, recalling that Brown would talk about himself until the younger Bart couldn’t take it.

Still Bart’s son notes that he and Brown were so close that he was one of the few people who was on a first-name basis with the man who insisted others refer to him as “Mr. Brown.”

Allen later explained that he asked Deanna Brown Thomas, one of Brown’s daughters, why he and Jack Bart weren’t called, and she indicated it was about money.

“That’s the James Brown organization MO. If there was no money in it for them, then they weren’t doing anything,” Allen says. “So rather than trying to be historically correct or have a better knowledge of how it was back then, the call was never made.”

Get On Up’s studio, Universal Pictures, declined to comment about Bart’s portrayal in the film while Aykroyd’s rep has not yet responded to THR’s inquiry, but the manager’s son and Allen insist they aren’t holding a grudge despite their concerns about the film.

“We love [Brown’s] kids, have nothing against them at all,” Allen says. “We have no hard feelings for them, just great disappointment that [Brown’s family] didn’t call Jack once and try to get better information on Ben Bart to paint Ben Bart the way they did.”

Jack Bart adds: “I have no ill feelings about it. It’s only a movie.”

 

James Brown and Jeff Allen

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