By Alexa Solis
A group of young, disenfranchised men, continuously beaten into submission by white police officers in Compton hit it big and change the world of music. This is the real-life story of the hip-hop group N.W.A, and it’s also the plotline of the group’s recent biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”
The film is touching, insightful and shines a light on the everyday challenges of young black men in one of the America’s most violent neighborhoods. To put it lightly, “Straight Outta Compton” is important, especially in the wake of events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, or any of the countless officer shootings that appear on the news at a frightening rate.
However, there is one aspect of life for these men that the movie doesn’t touch, and that is violence against women. This is especially true for one member of N.W.A in particular, Andre Romelle Young aka Dr. Dre. The producer and rapper is not often known for his questionable past, which is surprising considering that it is marred by several very public incidences of violence against women.
One such instance was the assault of reporter Dee Barnes at a party in 1991. At the time of the incident the members of the group brushed off the attack, with group founder Eazy-E responding, “Yeah, bitch had it coming,” in a 1991 Rolling Stone article. Barnes chronicled her experience in a piece for Gawker after the release of the film in which she noted the truth of what happened to her and other women is, “too ugly for a general audience.”
Barnes is probably right in that assumption, but many would also argue that she is also right in calling attention to the complete absence of any mention to that kind of behavior in the movie. The film’s director, F. Gary Gray, noted that Dre’s history with violence against women just didn’t fit the film’s narrative. Maybe that’s true.
But maybe it’s not.
Though the allegations are decades old, they are indeed a part of N.W.A’s legacy. Everything from the group’s nonchalant dismissal of Dre’s actions to Dre’s somewhat apathetic responses to criticisms of his behavior indicates that violence against women was commonplace for the group.
It is expected that the subject of any biopic is examined with a microscope by viewers and the media alike. It is not then surprising that Dre’s history has come back to haunt him, with R&B singer and ex-girlfriend Michel’le speaking out about the film and its depiction of Dre (which by the way, is of a level-headed musical virtuoso).
The question, of course, is not whether or not what Dre did was wrong (because it was). The question is whether the film is merely scripting for the narrative or glorifying the lives of its subjects.
While Gray argues that Dre’s history with women didn’t fit the narrative of the movie as a whole, the omission of the information comes at a very convenient time for Dre — the recent release of his latest album “Compton” which dropped on Aug. 7, a mere week before the film was released.
Could this be a coincidence? Maybe. But if there is one thing that Dre has proven himself to be, it’s a shrewd business person, as well as a highly successful producer. If he were being an opportunist, it is entirely probable that he would capitalize on the release of a biopic chronicling his rise to fame.
Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the portrayal of a glorified version of history is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is the standard in biopics, but the removal of such crucial details of the group’s existence is only perpetuating a greater problem: the treatment of black women in places like Compton.
Imagine what it must be like to grow up in the world of “Straight Outta Compton.” This world is still very much a reality for many cities and communities in the United States. Now, imagine what it must be like to be a woman in those communities. Not only are they oppressed by the law, as Barnes noted in her article for Gawker, but also by the men around them.
Critics may scoff and argue “what does it matter? That’s not the point of the story.” The point must be made that it absolutely does matter. As a viewer, the point of the movie is bring to light the environment that not only produces many of the shining new stars of the hip-hop world, but also the environment that kills, degrades and breaks so many others. Removing the grittier, more controversial aspects of that life doesn’t serve the narrative. Instead it serves the subjects, and does a disservice to half of that community as well as the noble intentions of the film.
“Straight Outta Compton” courts controversy from the get-go, much like N.W.A., and it is a shame to see such an important work of cinema lose credibility in one of the greatest legitimate controversies that ever faced the group. Sometimes, the point needs to be made that real life doesn’t always fit the narrative. When society realizes that, and is ready to accept that, maybe true progress can finally be made.
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @thealexasolis.