The N.W.A. film is finally set to arrive. The Red-Band trailer for STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON just hit the Interwebs. I’ve been waiting for years to see a dramatic approach to this true story.
When NWA’s music first hit the airwaves, White suburban kids like me got our first glimpse of what happens in America. What started off as curiousity, or a form of entertainment (like watching an action film or gangster movie), became a personal interest in true artistic expression. As unlikely as it sounds, NWA taught lessons. And whoever you are, once you knew, you cared.
I really liked how the trailer had an introduction by the real life ICE CUBE and DR. DRE. First, it shows endorsement. They approve-of-this-message type shit. Secondly (and more importantly), it informs younger viewers that Cube is more than the ARE WE THERE YET / RIDE ALONG guy, and Dre is more than the headphones guy or Eminem’s producer.
They were two thirds of the legendary hip-hop group NWA… Lest we forget EAZY-E… These 3 were the frontmen for the group which consisted of several other members, like M.C. REN. Now, it’s not like these musicians were all OGs (Original Gangsters). From what I remember about these guys, Dre was the musical (producer) talent joining the guys from a funk/pop group who would get decked out in fancy shining pants and disco gear.
Several years back it was rumoured that JOHN SINGLETON (director of BOYZ N THE HOOD) would return to the sub-genre and direct the true story of NWA. I was so pumped. This was a perfect fit. The script must have went through several revisions and delays in production because he isn’t helming this biopic. Instead we have another Cube collaborator, F GARY GRAY. He’s directed movies like FRIDAY (which Cube wrote) THE ITALIAN JOB, and the underseen & unappreciated bank-robbing action flick SET IT OFF (Queen Latifah & Jada Pinkett).
So the behind-the-scenes talent seems solid. Promising actually. I think the on-camera decisions are just as solid. Instead of casting known actors, the producers cast unknowns to play these mythical lyricists and composer. Where Will Smith gets shit for casting his son in movies, Cube will get away with this one. The son will portray the father. See, that makes sense to me. You can definitely see the resemblence in the trailer, when Cube raps behind the mic. And those Jerry Curls. Wow. Maybe his old man still has some Afro-Sheen leftover from back in the day. Jokes, eh. And I haven’t seen a better Curl since Jules in PULP FICTION.
Growing up in the 90s, I saw my fair share of the so-called hood movies. There were numerous films in this sub-genre due to the success of Singleton’s BOYZ . That movie made it’s fair share at the box office, gained critical acclaim, launched CUBA GOODING JR, and opened the eyes of White America as to what horrors lurk in the American inner-cities. Despite it’s violence, BOYZ had some optimism.
The nihilistic MENACE II SOCIETY was just as good, although much more aggressive. That movie had THE HUGHES BROTHERS putting their own spin on the SCORSESE gangster pics like GOODFELLAS. It was more violent and grittier and void of hope than Singleton’s picture; however, the combination of these two movies informed what it was really like to live in the hood. These movies gave images to what NWA’s music was already saying. In fact, CUBE made his acting debut co-starring as one of the leads in BOYZ.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON looks like it will show the larger picture. The film won’t just show us the birth of NWA. Or it’s rise to fame and all that comes with – girls, cars, drugs, money… power. The film will also show us the controversy behind the group’s popularity. It will talk of protest. Of community. Of police brutality. It will aim its focus on the LA riots, for what I hope will be an unflinching portrayal of the times. Time changes some things, but not all things. Today’s audience will have their eyes opened with this parallel to the recent headlines and tragedies of Ferguson and NY.
Let’s examine the importance of such parrallels and frame NWA in a larger historical context…
Here, I will digress a bit. I’m not trying to be political. Rather I’m going to share my experience a world away during the time of NWA and the intense social climate.
I’m prefacing this (for what it’s worth) – since this is a movie site, not a political one. I will talk of how I felt hearing NWA and experiencing the glimpses of their world through their music and(conversly) the American news.
For those too young to remember, this will be a fast forward zip through history to demonstrate why NWA were/are so influential and monumentally important.
So… Young me would think: How could rich upper-class Americans not care what happens to it’s lower-class citizens?Obviously, this sort of idea is nothing new to history. But to a Canadian kid with a treefort (like me) the world got real. Real fast. Kids my own age are fighting to stay alive? It made no sense. They are surrounded by danger. What? I’m playing war in the woods with sticks (standing in for a gun), while other kids are facing the real deal. The truth.
It’s not like these kids were sent out for war in Germany to combat Hitler’s tyrannical rule. They had guns to protect themselves. When kids die in American ghettos (not the WWII Warsaw variety), their murders go unsolved. The police don’t protect these kids, instead they stop and frisk them for no reason. They rough them up because of their skin. They smash tanks into their homes suspecting drug activity – without warning. Imagine watching TV, minding your business, when a tank BUSTS through your wall and into your living room.
It was thus that “police brutality” entered the pop culture lexicon. NWA opened those doors. They opened those broken windows. They aimed a spotlight on their community, and spoke the truth. The media thought it was hype, designed to sell records, creating the popular Gangster Rap genre. They thought it was marketing at work. The media was hiding what they’ve hid so well for decades. Injustice. Inequality. Even though NWA busted onto the music scene STRAIGHT out of COMPTON there were those who didn’t consider their truths.
This all changed with RODNEY KING, a Black man pulled over by LA cops and beaten. Savagely. Brutally. Nearly dead. The difference this time was we weren’t hearing about this crime from eye-witness testimony, we were watching it on the news from eye-witness video. It wasn’t like today when everyone has a camera in their pocket, so this was breaking news. The verdict on that trial sparked the LA Riots. Imagine Ferguson events, caught on tape, and the cop STILL was released innocent.
And… END DIGRESSION…
So long story short – now there was proof. NWA told stories. They talked about their environment. They didn’t glamourize violence, they talked about what happened to them, or someone like them on a daily basis. This was their method of non-violent protest.
How grand a scale can be portrayed in the length of a feature film’s runtime? Will the movie shift it’s focus to the LA riots? Or will it tell the story of NWA’s rise AND fall? I want to see how the group fought each other after they tasted success. I want to see how they react to EAZY. How they move on without him. Will the movie end with Cube and Dre in the present day? Will it touch on their achievements over the decades? NWA is so influential you could tell their story with an HBO mini-series and still leave out important memories.
One thing is for certain… The voice of NWA will be heard all over again. A new generation will spin their music. A new generation might get inspired. A possibility such as that is why movies are so magical. They can influence the mind and heart of the viewer… while being entertained.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON promises music, crime, action, and emotion. I have no doubt this history lesson will be entertaining. I can’t wait.
What do you think?
Will this movie cause controversy all over again?
What do you think of the style of this trailer – beginning with the real guys reflecting on the past?
What do you think of that logo? I love that PARENTAL ADVISORY WARNING reimagined.
How do you feel about Cube Jr. portraying Cube Sr. ?
Would EAZY E be like P DIDDY if he was still in the rap game?
Should we see more movies about 90s history – like an LA Riots movie?
Will the media give air time to talk about this movie and it’s importance in today’s social climate? Or will this movie be blacklisted, void of publicity (unlike AMERICAN SNIPER)?
Will their be a backlash against exploitation? Of violence? Drugs? Women?