I left the movie theater heavy-hearted after viewing Straight Out of Compton. I allowed the positive buzz around the movie to suck me into seeing it even though I’ve never been a fan of NWA. While I loved Public Enemy, NWA was a bit over the top for me. I didn’t then and still don’t like music with explicitly sexual and/or violent lyrics. Words are things. Words matter. So, I’m mindful of the words that fill my head. I detest music that refers to women as bitches and hoes, and NWA lyrics are full of such references. I cringed as I sat in the theater listening to some of their infamous songs about life in the hood.
So, why did I want to see Straight Out of Compton? I was curious: Who was NWA? I wanted to know their story. I wanted to get an inside look at the men behind the music. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I wanted to see if they were different than I thought them to be. I went seeking understanding; I went looking for redemption. I wanted to be sympathetic to their plight as young Black men in urban America; I wasn’t.
There’s a scene in the movie Doubt where the nun, played by Meryl Streep speaks with the mother of a student at the school who the nun suspects is being molested by the priest. Streep’s character wants the mother to say something. But the mother, brilliantly played by Viola Davis, refuses. The mother wants to keep her son free from the wrath of her husband who rejects his son’s perceived sexuality. Never in my life did I think that I would be ok with not revealing the identity of a suspected child molester! But she made understand why she was willing to look the other way if her son was being molested if she thought it would save his life.
In Nathan McCall’s book, Makes Me Wanna Holla, there is a chapter called Trains that is very difficult to read, but so insightful into the psyche of some young men. McCall explains how the young men in the hood looked up to the old heads, and how the old heads were disrespectful of women. The chapter explains how the boys would trick girls into compromising situations and gang rape (run a train) them. Later in the chapter, McCall goes into detail about having a girlfriend and taking her to a friend’s house for sex, but learns that his boys have set her up for a train. He ends up getting into a fight trying to defend her honor. But a couple of the guys take the girl to another apartment to finish what they started. McCall does an excellent job of demonstrating the warped view many men held of manhood and the roles of women and girls in their lives. He also shows a maturity that I found lacking in characters in Straight Out of Compton.
It has been said that members of NWA were revolutionaries, but there was nothing revolutionary about their music or about their movie. It was a bio pic—based on real life events, and they had the right to tell the story that they wanted to tell. And they did. The only one who was really “about that life” was Eazy-E. Both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre came from stable home environments. It was a well-cast film that left me cold. I couldn’t wrap my head around glorifying what I saw as a destructive force in the Black community. Every time a movie about slavery or the civil rights movement comes out, there’s a chorus of Black folk complaining that we keep telling the same stories of victimization. Well, we’ve seen this story a thousand times as well. I didn’t find anything revelatory in the nearly 2 ½ hours that I sat and watched. Here are five sad truths that I gleaned from Straight Out of Compton.
1. We’re still oppressed—some of us more than others. I was disappointed in how easily Eazy-E fell for the okey-doke. He allowed their manager Jerry to swindle not only the group out of money, but Eazy was also taken advantage of because he trusted this White man that he didn’t know, to do right by him. Even after Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre tried to tell him, Eazy still believed in Jerry. Yea, even the so-called hard-core members of keeping-it-real, fuck-the-police NWA were still looking for a White Savior.
2. Consumption and greed continues to be our downfall. As soon as the money started rolling in, so did the wild parties, the drugs and the excess of material goods. There was never any mention in the movie of them giving any money back to the community or doing any type of charity work. It was all about how much they could get and spend. Though Dr. Dre and Ice Cube managed to escape the downward spiral that so many of our athletes and entertainers succumb to, Eazy Ended up being a casualty of never having enough.
3. Colorism is alive and well. Not only did the members of NWA end up with light-skinned women as partners in real life, there was a color caste system used to hire girls for the movie. When the casting call went out, the request was for girls who were classified as A’s B’s, C’s and D’s with the brighter complexions and straighter hair being A’s and B’s, brown girls with weaves were C’s, and dark skinned, poor girls were D’s. I can’t make this up! Here’s a link to the story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/17/straight-out-of-compton-casting-call_n_5597010.html And this is what we saw play out on the screen. Most of the women in the movie were light skinned. Early in the film, Eazy E was the only one who had a brown-skinned woman, but she was also “upgraded” for a lighter model. Some of the “blackest” men we know adhered to a Eurocentric model of beauty. Kathleen Cleaver, member of the Black Panther Party and wife of fellow Panther, Eldridge Cleaver spoke of being told to go inside during times of conflict so as not to mess up her pretty light face.
4. Misogyny was and still is an issue. NWA objectified women. They were boys with toys to be discarded at will. Though they come off as decent guys in the movie, their lyrics and their lifestyles show their disdain for women. Ice Cube married his girl and they’re still together. It’s inferred that Dr. Dre’s desire to pursue a relationship with a woman who didn’t want drama was partly why he left Death Row Records. And Eazy-E was also married in the film, but their references to women as bitches as hoes seemed to also reflect how they felt about women. An abuser doesn’t call his woman honey or babe before he hits her; she’s probably a bitch, or a hoe. Maybe that explains Dr. Dre’s abusive past and Ice Cube’s recent interview with Rolling Out in which he reinerates why some women are bitches and hoes, and only women who fit into those categories should be concerned. When Dr. Dre brutally attacked journalist Dee Barnes, members of NWA thought she got what she deserved. It was only with the release of Straight Out of Compton that Dr. Dre saw the need to apologize for his past transgressions.
5. Hypocrisy at its best. NWA may have made music that was raunchy and edgy, but at the end of the day, they were entertainers shuckin’ and jivin’ for the master. Their gangster rap wasn’t for the people in communities like Compton; it was for the masturbating voyeurs in the suburbs who played out the racist fantasies of hood life in their minds. NWA exploited what was happening in urban America for material gain. These are the sad truths straight out of the book of conformity and status quo.