By Ethan Robinson
We all know that summer is the perfect season for our favorite blockbuster films. And this summer, perhaps one of the most anticipated movies to hit the box office was Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray.
Released on Aug. 18, Straight Outta Compton did well its opening weekend, raking in more than $56 million. As of Sept. 11, the movie still goes strong with a gross income of over $155 million. Most ratings remain slightly above average. Why, you ask?
Titled after the debut album of the controversial gangsta rap group, “N.W.A”, the film follows the somewhat notorious group’s formation, ambition and ultimate division as rappers feud for credit and ego, while surrounded by a storm of social upheaval.
But even though the film portrays infamous and dramatic figures, that does not guarantee that it will also try to be the source of drama. In fact, Straight Outta Compton does a great job at stating the facts and being a neutral carrier through events. But sometimes so much so, that it fears stepping on too many toes, and thus appears sanitized and watered down. Who wants to tarnish the egos of stars such as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who are popular even now?
So, to properly decide whether this film does its job or not, we will be looking at what really happened to the real “N.W.A”, versus how it is shown on film.
In the beginning, Straight Outta Compton does well in helping us relate to “N.W.A” and its environment. Police brutality and racial profiling are shown to be harsh struggles in the daily lives of both a young black man and also as a member of “N.W.A”, speaking out against issues that otherwise Compton minorities would have been unable to voice. In this respect, the movie is true to real events, and in doing so, provides support for the “N.W.A” anti-police ethos. Though even this conflict wanes in comparison to the internal black-on-black crime that is later shown in the film.
Ice Cube really did leave “N.W.A” over royalty issues, claiming to have deserved more credit for writing about half of the album’s lyrics. Following this “betrayal”, as “N.W.A”’s Eazy-E called it, Ice Cube and his old creed had a feud lasting for years, with insults and disses often lyrically told in both of their musical releases.
The film portrays this conflict well, but seldom does it linger upon the nastiness and sometimes threatening brutality in the insults presented. For instance, Ice Cube is known to have used multiple anti-semitic and homophobic slurs in his lyrics, intended for “N.W.A”’s manager, but hardly is it given enough attention in the film.
Dr. Dre, on the “N.W.A” side, was once angered by TV host Dee Barnes over a question regarding the Ice Cube conflict, resulting in him bashing the side of her face and torso against a wall. Dre was charged with community service and a $2,500 fine. Is this mentioned in the movie? No, it is not.
Straight Outta Compton tries to tell a good story, while using only a fraction of the reality’s ugliness to make it pleasing to Hollywood standards. It is sanitized and displayed in a slightly rose-colored lens, even to the end, where no clear verdict is placed upon the aggressors. You do not leave the theater with a message of “N.W.A” being good or bad, or whether they glorify gangster lifestyle or not. That is left to your own interpretation. But is the movie necessarily good enough for that choice in conclusion? Who can say.
Nonetheless, you will soon find out that Straight Outta Compton was not only the teller of past violent acts, but also the indirect cause of one. Suge Knight, former CEO of Death Row Records, was reported to have driven off after an argument on the Straight Outta Compton set, killing one and injuring another during an intentional hit-and-run. The first, co-founder of Heavyweight Records, Terry Carter, was killed, while the other, filmmaker Cle Sloan, was severely injured. No more details are known of this violent act in relation to the film.
On the bright side, Straight Outta Compton has done some good in causing the fans and viewers to expect answers from the controversial figures that still live to this day. Suge Knight, the CEO and killer previously spoken of, is now facing a $2 million bail behind bars, and Dr. Dre has now addressed his own faults in an interview with The New York Times. Dre pleaded, “25 years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did.”
You gotta hand it to them, some progress has been made in the world, to balance the work of an average movie. Despite the racial violence, which still rages on.