With Straight Outta Compton we are given the origin story of N.W.A., one of the most influential bands in hip hop history. The story focuses on Easy-E, Dr. Dré and Ice Cube as they break out of the challenges of their youth to become world famous.
Emancipation of the Voiceless
There is no denying that the debut album of N.W.A., the album Straight Outta Compton, has been a defining one for a whole genre. In its wake tons of artists have emerged, including big names like 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent.
The shock factor of the lyrics on the album are put into context. “F#$% The Police” and similar songs are given perspective. The main characters grew up in tough neighbourhoods where they were often harassed by the police. Their music became the only way they could respond to the brutality they were facing from the people that were supposed to protect them.
With their outcry, they emancipated a group of voiceless people to speak out. In that sense – all though with (very) different tactics – they stand in the line of African Americans speaking out against oppression. They address the social problems and blatant discrimination they’ve experienced while growing up.
In a sense, they even partly stand in the line of history’s prophets who cry out when a people is on the wrong track. No matter whether you agree with their brutal and rough lyrics, there is no denying that N.W.A. had a massive influence on calling out discrimination.
Pimping and Shooting
However, it is evident that there are also several flaws in their character. The violence that they shout for in their lyrics is not the mere symbolic type; it’s the type that results in a hateful response. It is one that Straight Outta Compton helps us to understand but at the same time, not one that in the long run serves the greater good. While their initial voices were an inspiration, it soon becomes apparent that they are mostly self-oriented. They speak about their hoods, but they mostly care about themselves.
Probably the most explicit way this is shown, is through their thorough and shocking misogyny. Even on their debut album, N.W.A. sets the tone for decades to follow. They inspire an entire musical genre not merely to be disrespectful towards women, but have the most awful behaviour towards the female members of their own neighbourhoods themselves.
Unfortunately, this is not something the movie addresses appropriately. The film explains the original struggle and cry for justice, but, in the end, is more self-edifying than anything else. That both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are producers of the film already is a clear indication that Straight Outta Compton will not be a balanced depiction. The movie would have been an excellent opportunity to find redemption for these parts of their personal history by showing the band’s flaws in its behaviour towards women, but on the contrary, their lifestyle is glorified in the movie.
This makes that the plot a quite disappointing one. Yes, it gives great insight in the context of some of hip hop’s greatest artists, but there is no proper critique of those artists. They are the flawless heroes. And that’s just not the reality.
While the portraits are too one-dimensional, the actual portrayal is done amazingly. The actors depicting Easy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (Jason Mitchell, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins) are cast perfectly. Their performances are spot-on and make us at times believe we’re watching a documentary.
Straight Outta Compton is an explosive movie that is very gripping at first as we identify with the characters when we understand their struggles. However, when we see that their violence and misogyny doesn’t get addressed in the least, it becomes time to take distance from the characters. It is time to realise that while they may have partly had the ideology to change the culture they grew up in for the good, they’ve had a massively negative influence in affirming the abhorring treatment of women. It is a big shortcoming of the movie that this is not addressed. But that’s the danger of having the people who a biopic is about involved too closely with the project: it becomes very unbalanced.
Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray (Circle of Confusion, 2015)