I want to kick this off by stating that I am a white, 29-year-old female, raised in a middle class family in a safe neighborhood. What the hell does my race and socio-economic status have to do with Straight Outta Compton? Well, heaps, actually.
It would be a lie to say that the color of my skin and the privilege of my upbringing did not affect how I felt about this film. There were times when I felt guilt and shame, times when I felt abhorrence and superiority, and there were times when I just felt really fucking uncool. But no matter the inner turmoil I experienced intermittently throughout my two hours and twenty seven minutes in that red Arclight Cinema chair, one thing’s for sure: I was entertained as hell.
Straight Outta Compton is what movie making is all about. The film opens with an epic drug raid on the crack dens of Compton, South Los Angeles, where we meet a young and misguided Eazy E in above his head. I know it’s just a movie, but I trust that Dre would have made sure the portrayal of his hometown was on point. Compton was the fucking HOOD. I mean, I never saw it for myself, but from what Straight Outta Compton is telling me, shit was heavy as an elephant snorting cement on the streets of South Central in 1986.
What we have in NWA is a harrowing tale of rags to riches; a crew of boys from the hood wanting more for themselves than a life housed by a 6 by 8′ prison cell, or worse yet, a body bag. Through humor (Cube’s retelling of a Bloods member’s ‘motivational speech’ on a school bus is a real barn burner) and hard-hitting story telling, Straight Outta Compton retraces the meteoric rise of one of the most influential rap groups of all time. And man, is it a crazy ride. Obviously, the soundtrack is incredible, not only dropping all of NWA’s biggest bangers, but it seamlessly weaves in the jams and early journeys of other key west coast players like Snoop and Tupac. The casting is so on point you forget you aren’t watching a documentary, and holy shit-balls does Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr (Cast as Ice Cube) look like his dad.
What’s also impossible to overlook is the relevance of this film today. As of this morning, the town of Ferguson, Missouri, was again declared a state of emergency, one year on from the riots that erupted after white police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Every day, new footage surfaces of police brutality in America. The parallels between the racially charged Rodney King riots (featured in the film) in Los Angeles in 1992, and increasing tensions between white police officers and black Americans all over the country today are striking. NWA’s seminal track ‘Fuck Tha Police’ is just as applicable today as it was when it dropped in ’88. Watching that song come to life on screen is inspiring as hell, and it’s safe to say there wasn’t an unclenched fist in the cinema when Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren played it to a mass of screaming fans at a show crawling with cops who’d hit them with a cease and desist minutes before.
The film does such a good job at highlighting NWA’s pivotal role repping young African American culture, it’s almost safe to say that at the height of their fame, they were more influential than the government. They owned the hearts and minds of America’s urban youth from 1988 to the early 90’s. They came from nothing, and instead of letting the factory of odds throw them onto the conveyor belt; they made themselves into something else. And for that, they are our heroes.
And that, my fare-weathered friends, is where we run into a problem. I’m finally old enough to recognize—and in turn worry about—the incredibly impressionable minds of today’s youth. If I’m sitting in a cinema at 29, with a couple life experiences under my belt, a functioning moral compass, and a healthy sense of self to boot, thinking these guys are cool as fuck for being gangster, what’s a 13 year old with none of the above gonna think when they watch this? Every time Dre, Eazy or Cube get in trouble or have a score to settle, guess how they settle it? Violence. Boyfriend turns up to your hotel party to take home their girlfriend? Chase him with a machine gun. Record producer doesn’t have your paycheck when you ask for it? Come at him with a baseball bat and smash the shit out of his office. Watching these scenarios play out is kind of confusing—you want to get out of the street, but then when things don’t go your way, you want to revert to street mentality.
Anyway, hard for me to take the moral high ground—like I said, I’m a privileged white girl who’s been to Compton twice. But I can’t help but draw comparisons to tales closer to home; like the ugly thug mentality of Maroubra’s ‘Bra Boys’. That’s seriously the only problem I have with the movie. And even with that in mind, I honestly give this film a 9.5 out of 10. It’s a really, really good movie. I just don’t think guns are cool, even in someone as cool as Dr. Dre’s hands. Cars on the other hand; very cool. Especially Suge Knight’s bright red Cadillac he drove to Death Row Records everyday. That thing is sick. Anyway, time to disembark from my soapbox. I’ve got a bus to catch.