“Straight Outta Compton” follows the creation and breakup of rap group NWA. The characters are compelling and the movie doesn’t romanticize the gangster lifestyle, though NWA was accused of promoting that lifestyle in their lyrics. Because the members are all “straight outta Compton,” a lot of dark subject matter is covered. However, the movie tries to balance that with humor and charming main characters. There is a lot of funny dialogue between the characters in order to lighten the mood.
The movie features criminal behavior, police officers abusing their power, poverty, promiscuity, AIDS, etc. Being a young black man from Compton is portrayed as a tough lot in life. But there is really only one true supervillain in this movie, and that is Suge Knight (played by R. Marcus Taylor). There are many moments where characters from all walks of life play the villain, but the only one who seems truly evil is Knight. He is portrayed as an unstable bogeyman—hyper-controlling, abusive, and given to acts of violence on a whim. He lashes out at anyone who is weaker than him, without fear of repercussions (he has the power of money behind him), and it’s typically other black people that he chooses to bully. While the other characters also engage in bullying behavior, Knight takes the behavior to such an extreme that even NWA members Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) consider him to be too extreme. This column will not speculate as to whether or not Suge Knight really engaged in this kind of disturbing behavior or not.
Despite the presence of a supervillain, the reason this movie is so good is because it’s able to balance the awful (sometimes even life or death) situations that the characters find themselves in with humor. The boys from the ‘hood speak their minds, and they’re often able to throw in some sardonic humor. For instance, there is a scene where Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.) has an awful experience on a school bus. A gang member, with gun drawn, forces his way onto the bus and lectures a kid for putting his hands in the air. He brags to the kids about his reputation for killing and violence before finally exiting the bus. Later, Ice Cube mentions the incident by stating that he received a “motivational speech” on the way to school.
This movie is a drama with comedy interspersed throughout. The comedy works well and explains how the characters are able to buck up and get on with their lives. If they didn’t look at everything going on around them with a little bit of humor, then they would be overwhelmed by a very dark world. Ultimately, the humor helps the audience get through some very disturbing material.