Thursday, August 20, 2015
‘Straight Outa Compton’ (2015).
Reviewed by Biko Agozino
The tragic-comedy of ‘Straight Outa Compton’ (2015) was obvious right from the opening scenes when some gangsters blocked a school bus with their car and boarded to threaten school children with a gun just because they flashed finger signs that were suspected to belong to a rival gang.
Those children apparently thought that they were simply having a laugh at the expense of the gangsters but they saw how deadly such a joke could be. They soon grew up to rap (or 'report', as Ice-Cube told a television reporter in the movie) about the violence in their community with emphasis on how the police and adults, who are supposed to protect them, make matters worse with brutality.
Footage of the Rodney King beating protests and footage from ‘Boys n the Hood’ (the film script of which O’Shea Jackson, Ice-Cube, was seen writing in the new movie, saying that he thought that it was incredibly funny) were used repeatedly to underscore this story line.
Similarly, the parents who were supposed to love and protect the young men turn out sometimes to be abusive. For instance, the mother of Dr. Dre in the movie was challenging him to go to school or get a job to support his own child and live-in baby mama but when he talked back by claiming that he had a job as a DJ, his mother slapped the grown ass father hard and told him that flipping records was no job, forcing him to move out to squat in the apartment of an aunt.
Such a gendered brutalization of young men by adult men, by the police and by their own mothers, as was seen during the Baltimore uprising in 2015 when a mother slapped her son for participating in the protest against the brutal killing of an unarmed black man by the police, might be part of the reasons why the young men grow up to believe that violence is a legitimate way to settle disputes. Dr Dre’s younger brother may have been socialized that way to get in a fight in which he was killed, making Dre and the band members to weep like babies and pledge to remain brothers forever.
Similarly, when a man came to the hotel room scene of an orgy with a loaded gun in search of his girlfriend, Felicia, the band members retrieved even bigger guns and scared him away before humiliating the naked dark-skinned Felicia further by locking her out and jeering, ‘Bye Felicia!’, an allusion to a phrase from Ice-Cube's 1995 comedy, a phrase that has since become a dismissive phrase online. Dr. Dre has now apologized for hurting women in the past when he was younger.
The movie shows how the young men turned the tragic experience of brutality into music that white-owned record companies found profitable and began to market to predominantly white youth with emphasis on the gangsta image as what sells the music but without being accountable to the impoverished young African Americans who appeared more interested in the show and less in the business aspect of their show business, perhaps because many of them admitted that they could not read the contracts that they signed.
The white men who claimed to be working for them as managers and producers tried to convince them that paying for the degrading orgies and pool parties or getting mortgages for some of them was enough compensation for their productivity until they could not keep up with the mortgage payments and were kicked out.
The only one who refused to sign without having an attorney check out the contract was Ice-Cube and when the record company executives refused to pay him for his lyrics on the eponymous album, he went to the office with a baseball bat and smashed all the priced platinum records displayed on the wall without hurting anyone physically. This brought the white record executive to tears.
Cube (O’Shea Jackson who also produced the film) was the only one who appeared to have a father in the neighborhood and his black father and white-looking mother were seen standing up against the police as they brutalized him on their doorstep without provocation in the movie. No wonder his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., was cast as Ice Cube, suggesting that part of the crisis facing the black community is the alienation of fathers from their children, as Sista Souljah argued in The Coldest Winter Ever.
The film gives credit to the business acumen of Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) who was bailed out from jail by a drug dealer friend and who immediately persuaded his friend to stop dealing in drugs and invest instead in the business of making records. Hopefully, Universal Studios will donate part of the huge profits from the blockbuster film to schools to help close the academic achievement gaps.
The tragedy here is that public officials have not realized that investing in the incredible talents of urban youth the way the government pays out billions a year as subsidies to rural white farmers would be a good investment for the country as a whole. Also, ending the war on poor minorities in the guise of the war on drugs may help to reduce the institutionalized racism in policing and contribute to revenues for education to get children to say no to drugs.
Instead the N.W.A. alleged in their title song that the police are given the authority to kill minorities under the assumption that all black men were drug dealers and the FBI sent the group a written warning not to promote one of their songs, 'F**k the Police', or risk arrests. They insist on their right to freedom of expression and see the threat as free publicity. And afterwards, Detroit police warned them not to sing that song. They called their bluff and were brutally arrested on stage in the midst of police gunshots.
It was tragic that none of the young black men found a dark-skinned black woman attractive and that the only dark skinned woman in the movie with anything significant to say was a body guard (for Suge Knight of Death Row Records) who relished pointing a handgun at a naked black man being humiliated for fun until Dr. Dre tried to stop that bullying by sucker punching a couple of the male body-guards, telling them off for dog-fighting in the office while Tupac was with him the studio grinding out profits like a money-making machine; then he fled in his flashy car to be chased and brutally arrested for speeding.
The greatest tragedy of all was that the misogynistic pool parties and orgies finally claimed the life of the band leader, Easy E. (played by Jason Mitchell) who was apparently happy to drown in a certain part of the female anatomy until he contracted HIV/AIDS and died young, just when he was trying to bring the group back together. He was mourned by his tearful band mates and abandoned by the white men who got rich ripping them off and splitting them apart.
Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech and award-winning documentary Director. firstname.lastname@example.org