Dir: F. Gary Gray. Wri: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge Alan Wenkus, Andrea Berloff Prod: Look it Up. There’s a lot. Starring: O’shea Jakson Jr. Corey Hawkins Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.
For the lovely Anna Jaramillo
Straight Outta Compton is a compelling film with a few weak spots. But of course, when you’re tying to depict a super group and tell a history story, maybe some parts are better or more dynamic than others. Take your pick –it’s history. Outta Compton is a film about friends, about LA and what the entertainment business—really, the world that’s been created not to house you but to keep you on the porch begging for entrance does to you: being black and from the hood in LA. Outta Compton is about black history. My roommate came by my room—the door was open—and asked what I did today. He usually does this because he’s partly interested, partly concerned and at the same time wants me to experience life in my new city: New York. I told him I hung out a few stops away from our apartment at Book Culture down the street from Columbia University. Then took the train downtown to Strand then came back up to finish out the day. Before this I saw Straight Outta Compton. And being from the west coast, being born in LA and spending time there during my childhood (I moved to Sacramento after I was born) walking out of the theater into the New York streets after seeing a movie about LA, was a bit weird. But in some way helped me sort of accept that I’ve been living New York. The roommate said that he heard good things but the movie and the praise for the movie, brought up an issue for him—the #BlackLivesMatter movement. “When kids say to me ‘Black Lives Matter’ I say back, but why? They don’t have an answer.” Straight Out of Compton is black history—whether you like N.W.A. or not, whether you like hip-hop or not, or maybe were a fan of it at one point (talking to the older generation) and can’t get with it anymore. And what’s a bit confusing about Outta Compton is its timeliness. It’s a historical piece that presents issues that blacks now are facing. But at the same time, do we really need Straight Outta Compton?
The story follows Dre (played by Corey Hawkins ) Ice Cube (played by O’shea Jackson Jr) Eazy (played brilliantly by Jason Mitchell) MC Ren (played by Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (played by Neil Brown Jr) and their rise to rap superstardom in 1988. The story starts in ‘86 at the height of the crack epidemic. The interesting thing about Outta Compton is that these characters, these five young men, as N.W.A. live two decades just to see the same exact things happen to them from where they started. Police brutality, the force of street life, the dying and passing away of friends and family, and change. A lot of what F. Gary Gray’s film seems to be saying is that –much like Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope—certain things for a black person are almost inescapable; no matter how hard you try to do the right thing. Eazy E and Jerry Heller’s relationship is a perfect example. Anyone who’s watched a documentary on Dr. Dre or Death Row or Snoop or N.W.A. know about Eazy E’s and Heller’s father and son, old buddy relationship—even though Heller was cheating him. The film starts out with Eazy making a drug deal that goes bad. And we see that ever since this happens, Eazy has one foot in the streets, and the other outside of them, but where that foot lands, we don’t know. That’s where Dre, O’shea. and Yella come in. They help, or at least try, to get Eazy out of his futile path, while at the same time trying to do the same for themselves. O’shea is a writer, “a poet” as one of his friends describes him. “The rawest one”, who becomes conflicted early by attesting to the segregation in LA. Dre is the headman–the Superman of the group pulling everyone together under his vision (as he’s always done). Ren is the homie who’s hungry for opportunity, and Yella is the funny man driven by his motivation to have fun and be with his friends. Why my roommate said that he finds a problem with BlackLivesMatter is because he feels the kids don’t know what black lives mean. He tells me to Google Althea Gibson, the first black professional tennis player–“They don’t even know who she is…this is what I’m talking about. How do you fight for black lives and you don’t even know who these people are”. By these people he means black people. What he means: black people are people, not just abstractions. Outta Compton’s importance lies right here. The story is more about Ice Cube and Eazy and how the group manages the rift, silmalteanousesly dealing with fame and dealing with being black and famous. It’s not all about Dre (which I’m actually happy about) but I do almost wish there was more of Ren. The feud between Ice Cube and Eazy, with Dre being more of a team player, same as the other members, was not only something I needed to see because I felt that part of the N.W.A. story was glossed over in the documentaries, but really was the films bread and butter. Outta Compton gave life to Eazy and O’shea’s feud. And in a way it made it important– in terms of its relevancy for now and its depiction of hip- hop. Like the heroes and heroine’s of the Harlem Renaissance, the heroes of the civil rights movement, and in this film, the heroes of the molding and shaping of hip hop culture, a movements leaders do not always see eye to eye. This piece of the plot seemed more relevant than others–(Heller and Eazy, getting out of the hood) due to the fact that they were different and could different in the midst of belonging to black culture and the same set of principles that propelled them out of the hood, and into places where they could make change. They were attached to their blackness whether they liked it or not, and like you, if you’re black and reading this, are too.
Oshea and Eazy were not connected just because of N.W.A. but they were tied together because they were brothers– in every sense of word, and however their methods were not the same. They were individuals as well as a community. What F. Gary Gray does with these stories, particularly Cube’s and Eazy’s is humanize black rich teenagers. And yea, that includes the misogyny, sorry to say. O’shea Jackson Jr and Jason Mitchell’s performances were very good and in one scene where Cube (having left N.W.A. releasing Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, and beefing with Eazy) gets in a fight, accompanied by the Lynch Mob, that almost severs his ties with Eazy. It’s as if you could see, in Jackson Jr’s performance along with the costume choices mirroring those of his father’s during that time, that O’shea felt like the forgotten one– “the step child” as her proclaims on the song “I’m the N You Love to Hate”. The scene was one most heart wrenching scenes in the movie. O’shea represents the outcast–The guy that you’re not supposed to be like, the guy everybody has a problem with. He’s not the crack a joke, humorous, cool guy. He’s the guy who takes shit personal. He’s the guy who takes shit seriously. He’s the guy a lot of kids get shit for being like. The Kanye’s, The Kid Cudi’s, The Lupe Fiasco’s of the black community. The heart of the movement: the Malcolm X guy who even though he may not agree with the Million March, will still have the FOI ready if them boys get out of hand. The contrast between Eazy and Cube is the timelier element of the movie. And the fact that Gray made the film two and half hours was, I think, equally important, because he giftedly displays how much life–whether it be the life we live as regular people trying make a dollar and follow our dreams, or the life we as people under oppression, connected to the chasing of our dream—is impossibly lived sans other people. In a movement like #BlackLivesMatter where it is crucial that its supporters learn and recognize that black life doesn’t just mean a certain group of people, Straight Outta of Compton does a good job of reminding people that we’re just as much as individuals as we are a community. And either position needs be respected.