Sunday, August 16, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Straight Outta Compton

1.This movie is an interesting, intelligent - and kind of revisionist - history of the rise and fall of revolutionary hip-hop group N.W.A., and the way they punched America in the face.

2. The movie starts in 1986, when five young men in Compton, California, form a loose group to develop and play what they call "reality rap" to play in local clubs. When music manager Jerry Heller discovers them, he helps to make them famous.

3. The movie is really about the clash of two ruthless cultures: urban black street life and the music business. It does a great job of weaving American music history, contemporary culture, and interpersonal relationships together. It is not preachy, nor is it angry. It's a real movie.

4. The five main actors are pretty unknown, but they do a great job handling such iconic characters. I was especially impressed by Jason Mitchell, who played Eazy-E.  And to be honest, I wasn't expecting much out of O'Shea Jackson, Jr., but he surprised me by how well he played his own real-life father.

5. Considering how much of the group's history and lifestyle is common knowledge, it is fascinating (and disappointing) to see it being re-written right in front of our eyes. This movie is also an attempt to romanticize and make a new hero-myth out of a legitimately controversial group.

6. The group was well-known for their song "Fuck the Police", which became kind of an anthem for disaffected urban youth. It serves a prominent role in the movie. But they were also just as well-known for their horrific attitudes towards women - they really helped solidify sexist rape culture in hip-hop. The movie does not play the song "One Less Bitch", which is about gang-raping and killing women.

7.  Dr. Dre, who co-produced the movie, is receiving a fair amount of criticism for using the movie to erase the history of his own troubles with women. Perhaps the most infamous incident - when he picked up journalist Dee Barnes by the hair and repeatedly bashed her face into a wall - was not even mentioned.

8. The concert scene in Detroit, when the group was arrested after playing "Fuck the Police", is a nice piece of cinema, and portrays the group as unofficial heroes of free speech. It also never happened.

9. If you can separate the story from the history, and focus on the movie itself, this is a great film. It's a unique American epic, and shows that some of the issues America faced in the late 1980's haven't progressed very far. There is enough historical authenticity to be educational as well as entertaining. Just keep in mind that in the end, this movie is focused on entertainment.