Let’s be clear: I thought that Straight Outta Compton, overall, was dope. I learned a lot about the ‘90s era of hip-hop culture, the racial and socioeconomical tensions of Compton and Los Angeles that remain prevalent today, and the incredibly talented yet human N.W.A. members and their history as not only artists but true friends. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube’s individual rises to fame were fueled by loyalty, brotherhood, and their shared love for the neighborhood they grew up in, and their story translated beautifully on screen.
My biggest issue with the film in general was that the writers of this raw and raunchy story about three young black men on their journey to hip-hop royalty were all white. All of them. I don’t have a problem with the writers as much as I have a problem with the writing and dialogue, which at times came across as, well, too white.
At one point, the crew tries to convince Eazy-E to rap a verse that Ice Cube wrote, and he is being incredibly stubborn. Ice Cube gives the line, “You’re kind of acting like a hoe right now, Eric,” which made me cringe. Wouldn’t Ice Cube say something along the lines of, “Nigga, stop acting like a hoe.”? I mean, come on, this is Ice Cube… right? Suge Knight later gives a similar bar that again reminded me of the complete absence of black people behind the writing of the script to authenticate the voices of the black characters, but I was already desensitized by that point.
My second biggest issue was the static representation of nearly every woman in this movie (but isn’t it always?). Dre’s mom kicks it off as the stereotypical black woman, angry and demanding, then later in the film as the Black Superwoman when she consoles Dre over the death of his brother (her son) instead of the other way around. Other women in the film are used as sexual props, which I assume is an accurate depiction of the women who hung around on tour at that time. It was hard for me to accept those filler characters for what they were, especially when the group throws a topless woman out of a hotel room and she proceeds to knock at the door instead of actually saying something; for example: “Hey!” or “Can someone throw me a shirt?” or “Nigga, open the door!” Anything! Nothing??
I had hope in the wives of the main characters, but I was still left wanting for their complexity, as they were nothing other than extensions of their male counterparts. Yet, this nuanced misogyny was something I had anticipated following the movie’s casting controversy regarding the different types of women they desired for specific roles in the film. I won’t even touch on the topic of Dr. Dre’s multiple domestic violence claims that the movie strategically avoids, but feel free to look into it for yourself here.
My biggest issue (for real, this time) was the scene with Officer Uncle Tom (cast as Officer Rauch) which takes place outside a recording studio in Torrance. Before this scene, the characters have had a few racist interactions with officers, all of which are white. This scene introduces the first and only black police officer in the movie. Let’s get the obvious out the way—fuck the police. All of them. They are only pawns who enforce the oppression of a capitalist and white supremacist nation (and sometimes they do their jobs).
Black cops don’t get any slack from me or many other Black Americans that I know just because they’re black. In this scene, the tension between the N.W.A. members, who are being blatantly racially profiled, and Officer Uncle Tom is a familiar one to most audience members (“Et tu Brute?”), intensified by the officer’s flagrant need to “show out for the white cop,” and he is accompanied by several.
While this moment made me sad and uncomfortable, I wasn’t truly disturbed until Jerry Heller, Eazy-E’s manager and “ally,” entered the scene as the white mediator. Now, here is where I came to understand my desire for a black writer to have been involved in this screenwriting process, and even became desperate for one, because the resulting imagery was very difficult for me to process. Bear with me here; Jerry steps in to defend N.W.A., who are on the ground with their hands behind their backs. He shouts that the officers can’t harass the young men because of the color of their skin—yet he yells this only, and directly, at Officer Uncle Tom. The fuck?
I think this is intentional for the following reasons:
- The media, in general, fucking sucks.
- The media is always intentional. People don’t spend millions of dollars on Hollywood productions to let imagery like this happen by accident.
- White people don’t want to see a white person sincerely defend a black person against another white person.
- Jerry wasn’t a genuine ally.
- A black person didn’t write this scene (or any of these scenes).
This scene had the potential to be more powerful than it was uncomfortable, and for me, it fell incredibly short. The film’s theme of racism and police brutality parallels real life events, which are currently being highlighted by the #BlackLivesMatter protests for justice amid startling numbers of violent police encounters with unarmed citizens. Movies can be used as a way to address the reality of these disturbing occurrences while providing symbolic relief for these issues, but I was not relieved.
This is the only scene in the movie where a person directly demands that an officer in the film be held accountable for their racial discrimination, yet the demand for accountability is totally misguided (in my opinion) towards the black officer when directing it towards any of the white officers would’ve been much more relevant and helpful considering the race of the person who was making the demands.
Officer Uncle Tom is black. His use of racial slurs is intentional because he knows he is black, and he knows that the other officers know he is black, and he has something to prove. Black and brown officers perpetuating the discrimination against minorities under the false reality of a police badge is a real issue. However, mashing this topic with the very important and pressing topic of white allyship only sours the strength of addressing each by lazily throwing them together. The relevance of just seeing a white ally addressing the white oppressor on behalf of the black oppressed could have been a powerful beat for the entire audience.
However, as stated above, the race of the writers and the insincerity of Jerry’s character, which would be revealed later in the film, could’ve possibly been some of the reasons that this moment did not happen here. It is also possible that the writers simply wanted to leave a bad taste in the viewers’ mouths, and if that’s the case, they undeniably succeeded.
Everything else about the film just worked. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., playing Ice Cube was awesome (and trippy) to watch, and he gave a brilliant performance alongside Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively. Every other character’s resemblance to their real life persons helped pick up the slack in other places where authenticity lacked (i.e. the dramatic car chase scene). The men were shown as dynamic, passionate, and realistically flawed humans who were simply products of their environment instead of just senselessly violent thugs (except for Suge). The heartfelt story was consistent in plot and pace, save for a few scenes that ran only a wee bit long. Overall, it was a dope peek into the pasts and personal lives of some of the most groundbreaking figures in hip-hop and a unique cinematic experience.
My hope is that we have more movies like Straight Outta Compton, which focuses on black people in all their glory and complexity, but that there are more black people, who are able to understand that glory and complexity firsthand, who are at least helping to write the script. Media representation of black people is a work in progress, but it has gotten increasingly better over the last couple decades. Straight Outta Compton is refreshing, unapologetic, and hopefully the beginning of a new era of black cinema.
‘Straight Outta Compton’ Full Cast & Crew: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1398426/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_wr#writers
The Impact of Stereotypes on African-American Females: http://www.skepticink.com/gps/2015/04/30/the-impact-of-stereotypes-on-african-american-females/
The ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Casting Call Is So Offensive It Will Make Your Jaw Drop: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/17/straight-out-of-compton-casting-call_n_5597010.html
Dr. Dre’s Ex On Why His Abusive Past Isn’t In ‘Straight Outta Compton’: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dr-dre-ex-on-abuse-in-straight-outta-compton_55d33b55e4b0ab468d9e580c
“Fuck tha Police” Lyrics: http://genius.com/Nwa-fuck-tha-police-lyrics/
How To Be a White Ally: http://blackmillennials.com/2014/10/16/how-to-be-a-white-ally/
Suge Knight’s Lawyer Isn’t Pleased With His Client’s Portrayal In ‘Straight Outta Compton’: http://www.vibe.com/2015/08/suge-knight-lawyer-exaggerated-portrayal-straight-outta-compton/
All photos are from IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1398426/?ref_=ttmd_md_nm