After Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted in 2012, #BlackLivesMatter was created. Too many deaths have occurred just since 2012, and “Straight Outta Compton” (2015) reminds us that the abusive power of police and their dehumanizing behavior directed towards people of color doesn’t go away. (And yes, I know it’s not all, or even most police, but it has and is still happening).
This film is the gritty telling of the story of N.W.A., a biopic in which the fury surrounding race, poverty and police brutality finds a voice in gangsta rap. “Straight Outta Compton” is directed by F. Gary Gray, himself from South Central L.A. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, two of the original 5 band members, are among the producers. The film shows how Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren transform their life experiences into a form of musical expression embraced by millions across race and class boundaries.
O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Ice Cube’s son, portrays his father. Jackson’s performance is excellent in his film debut, the resemblance to his father unsurprising of course and bringing a remarkable genuineness to the role. Dre, played by Corey Hawkins, comes across as both intense and sensitive, with a seething anger. Jason Mitchell is excellent as Eazy-E, at once nails-tough and smart, but when he first raps in his pitchy voice he is hesitant, unsure of himself. Manager Jerry Heller, one of Paul Giamatti’s best roles, is a snowy-haired white man willing to take a chance on these blunt rappers, sometimes being their greatest defenders, other times seemingly ripping them off.
For those offended by coarse language and derogatory depictions of most of the female characters, this film is not for you. I don’t deny that the sexism and homophobia – along with the anti-semitic lyrics directed to their manager – were off-putting. But I love this film and believe it should be nominated for several Academy Awards.
My favorite scene is the Detroit concert. The music is bold, electrifying, brutally honest. It is a creative outlet for dealing with a world many of us never have (or had) to deal with.
As these musicians rise unexpectedly to fame and glory, inevitably in-fighting happens and N.W.A. is short-lived. Friends become enemies and cruelly insult each other in later music. L.A. is set afire after the Rodney King verdicts acquitting the police officers of police brutality. Later, there is reconciliation and fans Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the other remaining band members know of their successes today.
I recommend the film highly. And, about the fact that when the film opened last week a number of theaters called for “extra security presence,” well…pretty ironic, ey?