This month of February, Film A Week takes a look at Black History on Film. These range from icons of the industry, memorable characters that stand the test of time and important moments within cinema itself. It is to celebrate the influence of Black culture in cinema and show their place in the world of cinema, music, art and beyond. Let’s get it started with a look at the most influential group in hip-hop: N.W.A.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
Their music was their art. Their rhymes caused controversy. Their look and reputation scared the ever-loving shit out of White America. N.W.A. aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes consisted of MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy (Motherfucking) E. They were the epitome of the rap scne showing off their reality through their music to engage the audience into what was going on not only in Los Angeles, but the nation itself. Of course, every group has its beginning leading to a rise and, eventually, a fall. Straight Outta Compton, just like their music, encapsulates what made N.W.A. America’s most wanted rap group.
“Cause the boys in the hood are always hard
You come talking the trash we’ll pull your card
Knowing nothing in life, but to be legit
Don’t quote me boy cause I ain’t said shit”
– Eazy-E, “Boyz-N-The Hood”
Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray, is an intense look at the life of the group by showcasing not only them as a group, but as individuals. The story is the aforementioned rise and fall with a bit of an edge showing the gritty reality of the gangsta rap lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Some parts may seem exaggerated, but the fact that even those exaggerations might have happened, it adds to the group’s legacy.
Andre Young aka Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and O’Shea Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) are looking for an outlet to express themselves. While working as part of World Class Wrecking Crew, complete with hilarious satin jackets that Ready for the World would envy, Andre brings O’Shea to the stage as Ice Cube to give Compton a taste of reality rap, which pisses off the club owner Alonzo Williams (Corey Reynolds). Andre has had enough of this Shalamar-esque crap, along with O’Shea tired of putting up with the daily street bullshit, go to their friend Eric Wright (Jason Mitchell) to start recording in the studio. Wright uses the money he hustled in various drug deals to start up Ruthless Records. One of the first records they record is Eric as Eazy-E being given the chance to rap on “Boyz-In-The Hood.” These three, along with Lorenzo Patterson aka Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby aka Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), join together to become N.W.A.
“When something happens in South Central, Los Angeles, nothing happens, it’s just another nigga day….
Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggas Wit Attitudes”
-“Straight Outta Compton”
The group presses Eric’s record which catches the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Heller offers Eric and the group a chance to be their manager. Reluctant at first, the group eventually agrees and Heller tries to get investors to give them a record deal. After a performance at Skateland in Compton, Brian Turner (Tate Ellington) of Proirity Records decides to give them a record deal after mentioning the California Raisins as the “little fuckers that made him fuckin’ gold.” N.W.A. head to the studio to record and begin to record their hit “Striaght Outta Compton.” Unfortunately, while taking a break, they are taken down by the Torrance Police just because of how they look with their trademark gear. Heller tells off the cops saying they are his clients. The cops scoff and the group go back in to bring to life “Fuck Tha Police.”
“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority”
– “Fuck Tha Police”
The group hits it big and begins to tour the nation while White America losing their fucking minds. The FBi sends them a letter informing them that they are being investigated for “Fuck Tha Police” due to the song’s nature and possible provocation of violence against cops. While performing at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Detroit Police force says if they perform it, they will be arrested. As such, the group, well within the rights of the most American concept on the planet of free speech, get arrested for expressing themselves. The group hold a press conference telling the public what they do is art and what they are showing is something everyone is afraid of being aware of. All of this chaos is due to their lyrics and color of their skin. The group is infuriated by it. Frustration tends to grow in between the massive amounts of partying and sex, along with Andre dealing with the sudden death of his brother. The crew returns home to Compton to focus on work for the future. Ice Cube, on the other hand, is getting sick of not being under contract by Heller. Heller has been holding the contracts of all the others not Eazy-E hostage. Cube sees that Heller is screwing Eazy and the others out of money and declines to resign. This sows the seeds of the break-up, leading to Ice Cube to go solo on Priority Records. Cube hears a diss on N.W.A.’s new record called “Message to B.A.” Ice Cube, beyond pissed about his own projects and the diss, strikes back and hard with “No Vaseline.”
“Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple.
Cuz you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew
with a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.”
– Ice Cube, “No Vaseline”
Heller, as does Eazy, but Dre, Yella and Ren begin to see what Cube was talking about. Dre goes solo by signing to Suge Knight’s (R. Marcos Young) label Death Row and, honestly, I don’t really know what the heck Ren and Yella where up to. Cube and Dre have their ups and downs with their friendship. Dre gets to help with new artists such as Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) while dealing with Sug Knight being a complete scary asshole. Cube is busy writing Friday, supporting a family and trying to make ends meet. Eazy is on his own struggling with money and his solo life. He comes to terms with Heller over Heller practically screwing him over with the contract. Eazy has been growing weak and ready to end Knight’s life due to him being a threat to him. One day, after reconciling with Cube and Dre, Eazy collapses and is taken to the hospital. Turns out, Eazy is HIV Postive and is in a severe state. Dre, Cube, Yella and Ren get wind of it all and realize this is the end of Eazy. It is also the official end of N.W.A. ever becoming one again. With a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony demo left for him, Eazy never gets to hear as he passes on. The surviving members finally part their ways to go on. Unfortunately, Eric Wright, the soul of the group, won’t be around to enjoy it with them.
“Lil E-Z long gone
Really wish he could come home
But when it’s time to die, gotta go bye bye
All ‘lil thug could do was cry, cry”
– Bone Thugs-n-Harmony “Tha Crossroads”
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic that stands out among others. Yes, it does touch on the points all biographies have made before and even is overly-long at times, yet it never comes off as boring. It’s interesting to dive into this group because it still feels recent. 1988 is quite far away, but I was born in 1992, so it seems a bit close to that age. I watched this film with my mother who was a kid and teen of the 80’s and knew more than I did. She said that the film depicted everything quite right and I have to agree. It is the world as seen through their eyes. It’s a complex world riddled with problems and race issues. It’s a problematic world and a gritty one. The group themselves are not depicted as heroes, but more anti-heroes because they actually do some heinous things every now and then, but they have a voice to acknowledge it and the world around them. The way the issues in this movie are handled are great . It shows the anger and frustration cause by the authority figures. This sort of goes back to the authority analysis from The Graduate as the authority here are keeping the new generation of voices down, but now that authority is the police force that has racist undertones to their overbearing power. Even worse, that problem still exists today with the Black Live Matter movement and the constant beatings by the police force. It’s very idiotic that those trying to protect us are the same people trying to keep others down due to their false sense of entitlement. I’m all for the police forces, but if any police officer is like the ones depicted in this feature, please drop your gun, your badge and leave the force because you are a fucking joke.
The performances in the film are outstanding. The casting department did a great job in the casting of newcomers as each of them took the time to make their roles feel real and perfect. The standouts are the main three of Dre, Cube and Eazy. Hawkins plays Dre with ease and a sense of honesty as the audience can tell that Dre is a smart man and a very supportive partner. Jackson, Jr. does a great job playing his father and really comes across as the worthy successor to his father. There is a moment where he tells Brian in the film “I have a kid on the way” and my thought was “Yes, you do…wait, that kid on the way is you!” Mitchell as Eazy captures the role as a man who is smart, knows the game and is genuinely upset when nothing works out. There is soul in that performance. The other great performance comes from Giamatti as Heller who is depicted not as a bad guy, but a guy who got into his own sense of insecurity taking advantage of others. Young as Suge Knight is, with all honesty, fucking terrifying. Anytime he comes on screen, their is a sense of evil and an aura of “oh, god no” looming.
Now, the depiction of women in this movie is a hot button issue and shouldn’t be ignore. It is horrendous on how they are used as groupies and sex objects during the tour scenes. No woman should be deemed as only an object. Also, skipping over the entire domestic abuse cases and beating of Dee Barnes all at the hands of Dr. Dre is really something that the film could have used to show how far Dr. Dre has come from being the beater, but to also give the victims of his actions a chance to get their story heard. The fact that all that was given was a “I’m sorry” is completely upsetting.
Straight Outta Compton is a great biopic and maybe one of the best ever made. It tells the story that needs to be told, delivers fantastic performances and gives the audience something to talk about, be it their legacy or the issues shown throughout the film. It is a film that is sure to become a classic, not just in the hip-hop community or the Black community, but for everyone in the years to come.
“Damn, that shit was dope!”
Next month, Film A Week continues with a look at a historic moment in Black History with a film featuring a predominantly Black cast of characters and giving a return to form to a classic piece of storytelling. It also is a plus that the film broke new ground in animation and for Disney. Join the first Black Disney Princess Tiana on a journey to accomplish her goals, even if it means accidentally turning into a frog. “The Princess and the Frog” on Film A Week next Wednesday, February 10.