It topped the box office for the second week in a row and it’s received raving reviews across the board, but even with that, “Straight Outta Compton” manages to greatly exceed expectations.
“Straight Outta Compton” is a biographical drama that follows the history of rap group N.W.A., widely credited for bringing gangster rap to the mainstream and paving the way for musicians of many different genres today.
The release of “Straight Outta Compton” comes at an appropriate time with national media attention on police violence. The movie opens with rapper Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, “Contraband”) narrowly escaping an escalated drug deal as the police raid the location with the help of an army tank and battering ram. Other instances of police violence, including the Rodney King beating and following riots, draw comparison’s to more recent racial issues
The film opens in the mid-1980s, a time when Compton, or South Central Los Angeles, was among the most grisly cities in the country. Each character experiences instances of police violence, from unwarranted searches to racist speech, as well as gang-on-gang violence.
When five Compton rappers band together, they form the group N.W.A., consisting of Eazy-E, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr., son of the real Ice Cube), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins, “Iron Man 3”), Dj Yella (Neil Brown, Jr., “Fast & Furious”) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge, “Leverage”). Under Eazy-E’s new label, Ruthless Records, the group records the instant hit, “Boyz-in-the-Hood.”
With the success of N.W.A.’s first track, Eazy-E is approached by slimy music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, “Sideways”). With Heller as manager, N.W.A. is booked at some gigs where they are discovered by Priority Records, which helps them produce their hit album, “Straight Outta Compton.” Thus, we have the emergence of gangster rap in mainstream America.
One track in particular was inspired by a real-life encounter the rappers had with the police. While grabbing lunch mid-recording session, the L.A.P.D. approaches the rappers, begins an unwarranted search and ultimately abuses its authority based off of the way the rappers are dressed. Here is Jerry Heller’s only redeeming moment: he defends N.W.A. from the police, arguing that you can’t single out people by the way they look — especially by the color of their skin.
With the album “Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A. tells the narrative of living in the ‘hood. While the media and the police accuse N.W.A. of spreading violence, the rappers argue they are simply reflecting the attitude of the streets via their art.
One scene recounts the infamous encounter between the Detroit P.D. and N.W.A. at a 1989 concert, when the group is at the height of its popularity. Members of the Detroit P.D. ask that N.W.A. not perform a particular song, but under free speech, they perform the song only to get arrested after the song causes a riot.
Throughout N.W.A.’s time together, there is a rift between Eazy-E, who owns Ruthless Records; Jerry Heller, who seems to be financially draining the group; and the other rappers, particularly Ice Cube, who refuses to sign his Ruthless Records contract without legal representation and ultimately leaves the group. Thus begins the downfall of N.W.A.
After Ice Cube sees success on his own, even going on to write comedies such as “Friday,” Dr. Dre seems to think that he is perhaps being used, too. While Dre is arguably the backbone of the group, he doesn’t see all the success that his partner Eazy-E has seen.
Dr. Dre, not trusting Jerry Heller, leaves N.W.A. and goes on to create Death Row Records with notorious thug Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor, “Dead Man Down”), where Dr. Dre records his iconic album, “The Chronic.” The dissolution of N.W.A. comes with the uprise of other famous rappers like 2Pac and Snoop Dogg.
Eazy-E, becoming drained of both money and health, looks at his indebted company Ruthless Records, and with the help of his girlfriend Tomica Woods-Wright (Carra Patterson, “Why Did I Get Married Too?”), realizes that Jerry Heller is taking advantage of him. Woods-Wright is also a producer of “Straight Outta Compton.”
The rest is history although it’s hard to tell if the film truly follows its own history. Of course, there is the issue that the film was written by its very stars. Critics assert that the real story between Eazy-E and the rest of the N.W.A. gang isn’t truly told, but maybe portrayed in a better light. Whether or not history was tweaked by producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre — well, only they may know.
Although the biopic is entertaining, it also fails to go deeper and touch on subjects such as misogyny and homophobia within the lyrics (and even actions) of its heroes. For example, the New York Times alleged that “Straight Outta Compton” glossed over Dr. Dre’s history of abusing women.
Maybe it is the subtlety and honesty in which the movie approaches homophobia and misogyny in rap lyrics that addresses its own issues. In one scene, when Eazy-E is told he has contracted the HIV virus, he responds with words that hurt to even hear as a heterosexual straight woman. In another scene, a woman is shamed and left naked in a hallway for performing consensual sexual acts. These scenes aren’t hidden from the audience, but put out there for all to see.
So, perhaps, the misogynistic and homophobic attitudes portrayed are merely a reflection of the attitude of the time, just as unchecked in Compton as violence and drugs.
The movie is thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of hip-hop and rap music. The end verdict: “Straight Outta Compton” is a thrilling and entertaining ride, although, as with any biopic, it’s best to take it with a grain of salt.
“Straight Outta Compton” is rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.