FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“Straight Outta Compton:” a Reaction with Spoilers

Straight Outta Compton is a good movie. The acting is not great, but it does not distract from the narrative. The pacing of the film does not draw attention to its 150-minute length. The use of single-take tracking shots shows that F. Gary Gray is a filmmaker who has come into his own and is willing to experiment. The cinematographer is painterly in the framing and lighting. If this were a biopic about a white group with this kind of impact upon America, the film would be considered worthy of Oscar consideration. We will see if SOC gets any serious recognition. I suspect it will not. Oscar voters largely ignored Beyond the Lights, but if it had been about white characters in a different musical genre, GuGu Mbatha-Raw would have been a serious contender for Best Actress.

Straight Outta Compton is a very good film, but this is not a review. It is a reaction. I want to discuss two things: what the film gets right and, more egregious, what it gets wrong.

What It Gets Right: The Complexity of White Supremacy

White supremacy plays a central role in the film. How police officers treat the group is centered in white supremacy. The reaction of white, middle-class conservatives betrays a form of white supremacy. The FBI’s attempt to censor the group is grounded in white supremacy. As in America, white supremacy is ubiquitous in the film. However, it is the white supremacy displayed by a character that considers himself an ally to the group that fascinated me.

Paul Giamatti is convincing as Jerry Heller, the shrewd manager of N.W.A. and co-founder of Ruthless Records. A central point of conflict is the mismanagement of money by Heller and Eazy-E, played effortlessly by Jason Mitchell. In a climatic scene, after N.W.A. has broken up and Eazy-E discovers that his trusted manager took advantage of him financially, Heller says tearfully, “I always took care of you. Didn’t I always take care of you? Yes, I made sure I was taken care of first, but I always took care of you.” All he needed to do was add “boy” at the end of those sentences.

Heller saw himself as enlightened—an ally to this group of working-class black men from Compton, California. He was outraged early in the film by black suffering at the hands of the police. He appeared to genuinely believe in the talent and message of the group. He put himself and his career at risk to promote and protect them. Yet, despite all this, he still saw these black men through the lens of white supremacy.

He took advantage of the group financially. He infantilized them. And when confronted about his financial transgressions, he spoke to Eazy-E in a way reminiscent of a slave owner addressing a house n*gger. (For more, see Jeffrey St. Clair’s The Rise and Fall of Death Row Records.) Many assume that racism must be overt in order to be present. Heller shows us that racism can be expressed in a multiplicity of ways.

 

What It Gets Wrong: Misogyny

Films about historical figures are political statements. What filmmakers choose to include is just as important as what they choose to exclude. Let’s look at what SOC unnecessarily includes: scene after scene of nude black women sexually gratifying men. (Both fair and dark skinned black women are featured. Those outraged by the colorism in the casting call only succeeded in ensuring that women of all shades are objectified.) Female characters are used for sex and discarded. They are used as eye-pleasing décor in party scenes. Women wear revealing clothing for purposes that neither serve the narrative nor communicate anything distinctive about the characters they portray. The ingenuity with which words are used to degrade women is almost impressive in its profligacy. The film is misogynistic in what it includes, but it is more misogynistic in what it excludes.

There are no references to the abuse women suffered at the hands of N.W.A.—most pointedly, at the hands of Dr. Dre. There is no mention of the incident involving Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes when, in 1991, she reported that he “began slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall near the stairway” and “grabbed her from behind by the hair and proceeded to punch her in the back of the head” at a party. Nor does the film show the abuse suffered by his ex-fiancé, the singer Michel’le. She reported in an interview that, “I had five black eyes; I have a cracked rib; I have scars that are just amazing.” Michel’le is barely mentioned, and when she is, it is only as an artist on Death Row Records. Dr. Dre is portrayed as a forward thinking musical genius. There is no mention of his abusive behavior. For him, the film borders on hagiography, and that is simply irresponsible.

As I’ve said before, I have a great deal of affection for N.W.A. Many do. But our love for musical artists should not blind us to their misdeeds. This is a good film. It is well made and insightful about the complexity surrounding expressions of white supremacy. However, it ignores the voices of black women suffering just outside the frame of the film, and that I cannot excuse.

More articles by:

Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He can be reached at:  Law.writes@gmail.com.

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail