As many of you know, I’m not a typical conservative. Hell, I’m not a typical anything, really. I never was. I kind of do my own thing, and I have zero fucks to give if people don’t like it.
I’m a mass of contradictions. I love Camille Paglia, even though I may not agree with her on everything, and I hate the third-wave feminist douche tools. I hated the new Mad Max movie. I thought it was a cacophonous shitshow. I will spend my very last dime helping stray, abused, neglected animals and homeless people who just talk to me without demanding money, but I won’t give a dime to beggars who see it fit to demand my help. I strike up conversations with hobos, but at parties I’ll generally stand in a corner and not talk to anyone. I grew up on opera and Broadway music, and I didn’t even know what pop music was until I got to middle school. If you look at my iPhone, you will find a weird mix of Metallica, Evanescence, the music from the show “Nashville,” Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, and the music from “Glee.” I have a Broadway theater background. If you think I’m joking, I’m not. I played the Witch in “Into the Woods” my junior year in college. And yet, despite the brash stage presence, I’m one of the most introverted people you will ever meet.
Why did I just get into all that? Because there are quite a few fairly conservative readers of this blog, who will disagree with me on what I’m about to say: I saw the movie “Straight Outta Compton” on Sunday, and I loved it. I didn’t just like it. I absolutely loved it! And I know for many of you, that’s a shocking no-no. The misogyny. The violence. The disrespect for police. The culture. All of it. They glorify it, and the movie glorifies them.
The “them” in this case is N.W.A. or Niggaz Wit Attitudes – a rap group from Compton, CA – hence the movie title, which is also the title of their debut album, released in 1988.
The movie starred some relative unknowns, but also the great Paul Giamatti, who portrayed the group’s manager Jerry Heller with incredible delicacy, balance, and passion. Two of the group’s members, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, left N.W.A. after accusing Heller of mismanaging the group and only taking care of one member: Eazy E – the late Eric Wright. Heller also apparently completely mismanaged Wright’s earnings in an effort to make himself an easy dime. Despite all this, Giamatti’s portrayal of Heller was part paternal (Wright was a street kid who dropped out of school and became a drug dealer), taking care of Eazy-E, encouraging, nurturing, and protecting him. The portrayal was also one of moral courage, challenging the establishment’s and law enforcement’s treatment of black kids from the ‘hood, exuding pain and outrage at the discrimination and abuses, as a Jewish person not so far historically removed from the Holocaust would. And at the same time, there’s no doubt that Giamatti’s characterization of Heller was one of a cunning, shrewd, unethical shyster. To strike that delicate balance between those personalities is difficult and rare, and Giamatti – a massive talent – did it flawlessly.
I’d never heard of Jason Mitchell prior to seeing this movie, but his portrayal of rapper Eazy E was nothing short of flawless. He showed Eazy as at once a drug-dealing, unscrupulous thug, a naive little kid, a man whore looking for his next conquest, a lost boy looking for someone to care for and guide him, and a fragile soul looking for someone to love him. And in the end, as he was dying of AIDS, Eric Wright was someone who learned some hard life lessons.
Both O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Corey Hawkins were terrific as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre respectively. I was actually floored at how much Jackson looks like his dad (If you didn’t know, he’s the real life son of Ice Cube and this movie was his acting debut). There were a couple of times during the movie, where I had to do a double take, because I thought Ice Cube was on the screen! Hawkins’ performance as Dr. Dre was very respectful. He understood the character. The Julliard-trained actor sat down with Dre. He made an effort to get in his head and understand his influences, both musical and family, and he played Dre with a sensitivity that went beyond just acting.
Did the film “whitewash” Dre’s brushes with violence? Well… yes and no. The film wasn’t about Dre. It was about N.W.A. It wasn’t about individuals. It was about the group and how the individuals’ lives made the group pioneers in gangsta rap. I think focusing on Dre’s multiple convictions in cases of violence against women would have been out of place in this movie. Tossing that issue in there just to portray Dre in a more accurate light would have been superfluous. So instead, the film focused on what made Dre, Cube, and Eazy the people that they were, which ultimately led to the meteoric rise of N.W.A. If you want to call that “whitewashing,” go ahead. It showed Suge Knight for the twisted, hateful thug that he is. Those are things relevant to the story.
Yes, “Fuck tha Police” was hateful toward law enforcement. But you know what? Back then, law enforcement was hateful toward black youths in the nation’s ghettos. Racial profiling, violence, and outright brutality – Rodney King – that’s what influenced N.W.A.’s art. They rapped about what they saw. They pulled no punches. And judging by the reaction to their songs, they touched a nerve in a lot of people. Sure, things have changed for the better, but as I always tell those who insist on taking down Confederate flags, history needs to be remembered… warts and all. And no, I’m not getting into the history of the confederate flat or its controversy here. My point is that like them or not, hate their music or not, N.W.A. had an indelible effect on our nation’s culture. They highlighted the realities they faced growing up. And they stood up to police and government intimidation and attempts to limit their freedom of speech and expression the only way they knew how: through their art. Like them or not, they spoke to millions of people. And like them or not, they did more to protect our First Amendment rights than any legisleech in Washington DC has done in the past 30 years.
Law enforcement targeted them. A Minnesota Attorney General wanted to prosecute stores that sold their albums. Their songs were banned from radio. And politicians, being the opportunistic whores that they are, all rushed to denounce the group’s music – probably without real understanding of what the movement they started was really about. And while the FBI sent a letter to the group, supposedly speaking for the entire law enforcement community, condemning “Fuck tha Police,” they ultimately had to justify the blatant attempt at intimidation.
Whether you like the music or not… whether you agree with the lyrics or not… whether you consider them offensive or not, is irrelevant.
What they accomplished was bigger than just songs with a whole lot of offensive language and themes. And that definitely warrants its own bio pic in my book – especially one so wonderfully acted!
By the way, ff you want to watch my “Into the Woods” performance, you can do so below, and yes, that is definitely me.