I normally would never write a movie review in this column, but upon seeing “Straight Outta Compton,” I am compelled to write some thoughts. Essentially, this film should have been titled “Straight Outta the Revisionist Historical Minds of Two Obscenely Wealthy Millionaires About Their Time in a Famous Rap Group in the Late 1980s.” It’s not quite as catchy as the title presented to moviegoers, but it is definitely more accurate. There were so many missed opportunities in this two and a half-hour-long movie, I cannot believe I will never get my time or my $12 back.
Let’s start with the most glaring omissions. I am not the first to critique the film for its failure to recognize Dr. Dre’s well-documented history of physically abusing women. The film never addresses any of the beatings sustained by Dee Barnes, Michel’le or Tairrie B at the hands of Dre. I guess those omissions occurred because Dre is an executive producer of the film and a stakeholder in one of the largest deals in American history, that is, the one between Beats by Dre and Apple.
At one point late in the film, Dre’s character states something to the effect of “I’m not proud of a lot of things I’ve done in my life.” Well, according to the film, the worst offense Dre committed was speeding. Literally, the worst thing Dre did in the film was speed through L.A. Other than that, filmgoers only see Dre working hard in the studio, working hard at home and partying just a little when he was a young rapper on tour.
One of the most egregious scenes is the fictitious retelling of the origins of “Bye Felicia,” Ice Cube’s famous catchphrase from “Friday,” which has recently become quite popular in everyday language. Without giving too much away to those who will pay to see the movie, the scene ends with a naked Black woman in a hotel hallway after she has performed oral sex on Easy E’s character and subsequently gets face-smashed by Ice Cube’s character. A feminist manifesto this movie is not.
I keep thinking to myself what I would have liked to see pertaining to a film about N.W.A., a group that fought for freedom of speech, voiced the frustration of an entire coast and even an entire generation of Black people. I genuinely think Dre is the Quincy Jones of my generation. I know that may sound a bit insane at first, but think about it. Dre is someone who knows and understands Black music, melody, beats, rhythms and nuance in a way no other music producer or composer has yet to emulate. He is a man who appreciates the silence in between sound. If we are to celebrate the accomplishments of N.W.A., can we see a documentary as to how Dre chose particular melodies and background vocals for “The Chronic,” Snoop’s “Doggy Style,” Tupac’s “California Love” and so many other instant classic albums he helped create? Couldn’t Ice Cube direct the documentary with his now 20 years of film experience?
Maybe I am asking too much, but a film about such an important contribution to the Black music genre deserves to be much more than a vanity project that glosses over the great, the horrible and the truly despicable aspects of America and the Black men who were trying to grow, thrive and survive in a country that largely refused to recognize them. To me, N.W.A. is more than two millionaires who made it. It was a group that changed the way many Black Americans saw their brothers and sisters on the West Coast and connected us to our Blackness in ways not previously articulated. I think we all deserve more than what “Straight Outta Compton” gave us. And somewhere deep down, I hope Dre and Ice Cube recognize this as well.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”