F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton” quite literally opens with a bang and it only gets more explosive as the story continues. The film follows the polarizing hip-hop group N.WA’s almost unimaginable rise to success as well as their many setbacks.As the film opens, Gray is unapologetic about dropping his audience into Compton in the late 1980’s, which honestly is not somewhere anyone wants to be. This is not at all the color-saturated, upbeat world from his debut film “Friday” (1995). The drug epidemic, along with Reagan’s war on drugs, completely decimated the community, enabling very few to become successful. Honestly, the bleary muted tones along with the grit and grime of “Compton” makes John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood” look almost warm and inviting. Yet despite the many odds against them, the men of N.W.A were able to thrive, with Ice Cube as the group’s lyricist, Dr. Dre on the beats, and Easy-E backing the group financially, as their records began rising to the top.
With biopics, I’ve always found that there are two different types of films: Films that are made just because the subject is of interest to the general public; and those that are made when the subjects of said film – or their families, or some source close to them – back the project. Unlike Lifetime’s “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B” debacle, “Straight Outta Compton” has N.W.A’s blessing stamped all over it. Also Gray has a history of working with Ice Cube, first on his music video for “Today Was a Good Day” and then on “Friday”. However, chronicling the group from 1986 to Easy-E’s death in 1995, Gray was careful not to smooth over any of the group members’ most sobering moments. From a family death, money troubles, and Easy-E’s HIV diagnosis, the group’s trials and tribulations are laid bare for the world to see.
The film is remarkable because of how deeply it will resonate with today’s audience; not just because of the music and the talent that paved the way for icons like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar, but because of the prevalent theme of police brutality that runs throughout the film’s plot. The group is motivated to make their megahit “Fuck Tha Police” after experiencing some severe police harassment. Likewise, the Rodney King assault and trials are a constant, which ground the film soundly in the early 90s. However, when you consider the LA Riots and Ferguson, it becomes haunting and painful to see that we are still dealing with the same issues nearly 25 years later.
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Image: “Straight Outta Compton” Film Poster