Wednesday 19 August 2015

Straight Outta Compton ... Taking the rap

I WATCHED director F. Gary Gray's historical film Straight Outta Compton on Aug 19, just 10 days after the first anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.
   I'm not sure if the filmmakers had wanted to release the film last week to take advantage of the controversy surrounding the shooting anniversary, but whatever the reason was, the film will leave an indelible impression on you.

    You may be turned off by the profanities, excessive use of the word "nigger" and gratuitous sex, but you'll empathise with the young black men from the depressed Los Angeles neighbourhood of Compton, who used gangsta rap to express their frustration and anger at being harassed by policemen.
    I'm reminded of the impact The Hurt Locker (2008) had on depicting the US invasion of Iraq, and I believe Straight Outta Compton will have a similar impact on depicting what young black men experience.
   This film could not have come at a better time, and its opening weekend gross of US$60.2 million, on the back of a US$29 million budget, shows that it has a lot of legs, and, at the same time, provoking discussion about police treatment of ethnic minorities in the US.
   The fact that this film is being released 24 years after Rodney King's beating by cops, and the ensuing riots the following year upon the officers' acquittals, shows that police brutality is a cancer in society.
  Readers will also remember a white cop killing Walter Scott, a black, in South Carolina in April this year.
   Rap wasn't a well-known genre when it burst into the scene in the 1980s, and even a black cop ridicules it when he and his 2 white colleagues arrest the five members of NWA taking a break outside an LA recording studio.
   You'll feel your blood boil watching how the cops ride roughshod over the five guys, when even an innocuous gathering is considered dangerous.
   Earlier in the film, Ice Cube (played by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr) is held down by cops outside his house, just because he was loitering there. One can say that those being threatened with arrest should just do what the cops tell you to do, but one can also feel for the black men, who have to put up with this discrimination.
   Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), meanwhile, is just getting started with his DJing career. His concerned mum, upon hearing that he's a DJ, tells him: "I refuse to let you throw it all away."
  NWA's leader is Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), who, in the film's opening scene, shows that he's got balls to trick others in a drug deal, but even he could not have foreseen a police tank/battering ram demolishing the house.
   I don't know how much of the film is true, but according to it, it was a white man, music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who saw NWA's potential. "I can make it legit. I can get you in the building."
    Heller is shown as a sympathetic white man who cares for NWA's welfare, but history and the film will show that he was a slime dog. For the meantime, however, he's got their back. At a concert, he tells a black cop: "You can't arrest them for what they look like ... That's harassment."
  The cop replies: "F------ rape music."
   NWA's experience with the cops outside the studio led them to record the single F--- The Police, from its first album Straight Outta Compton, in 1988.
    The FBI threatens NWA for selling lyrics about violence against law enforcement officers. And even Detroit cops warn the group about singing that notorious song at its concert, but does NWA care? No way, Jose.
  The other two members are DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge).
  The film charts the rise of NWA from streetsmart punks to multimillionaires throwing orgies in hotel rooms and pool parties soaked with alcohol and laden with bikini-clad women. Then there are stories about creative differences, ego clashes and anger at their manager.
  These parts didn't strike a chord with me as they resemble other rags-to-riches band stories
  But the Rodney King riots in 1992 pull the film back into focus, even if they show Dr Dre and Ice Cube driving through the streets and watching the burning with a non-committal look.
   I'd have thought that they would have been aghast at the violence, so I'm not sure if this is what the director wanted to show to audiences.
   Eric does a nice thing and tries to get the members back together later. The group also rallies around him when he's dying of AIDS in 1995.
   The film's at its strongest revealing young black men's experiences and the suffering they endured at the hands of policemen. It wavers with emotional plots about girlfriends and parties. Dr Dre's assaults on three women didn't make it into the film, and I'm sure some rough and unsavory parts were left out, too.

3 out of 5 stars


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