Somewhere on the spiritual plane prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur was looking down and smiling at the assembled guests at Harlem’s Maysles Documentary Center last week.
The drinks flowed and the assorted guests of media influencers—African-American, Latino and South Asian representing Indian brown—chowed down on delicious fried chicken and macaroni and cheese (as good as your grandmother’s grandmother made). The tone was set. We were amongst our tribe and feeling nostalgic, marking the years and using Tupac’s music as the measuring stick.
Tupac was born June 16, 1971. He died Sept. 13, 1996. He was 25 years old. The panel discussion was moderated, Harlem-style, by hip-hop cultural experts Tuma and A.J. from Spotify. The topic of discussion was Tupac’s legacy, the hip-hop culture and how it shaped society today.
On June 16 the biopic about his life and legacy opens wide in the U.S. Directed by Benny Boom and produced by the visionary L.T. Hutton, the film introduces Demetrius Shipp Jr. in the role of Tupac and Dominic Santana as Suge Knight. The cast also includes Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper, Jamal Woolard and Danai Gurira.
Hutton, who worked with Tupac when he was living, made it crystal clear that as the producer of “All Eyez On Me” the film was going to do much more than just entertain—its true mission is to
educate and illuminate the story of a man and his legacy.
In that determination Shakur is telling his own story, and Hutton drew on his personal relationship with the rapper as the foundation for a massive database he calls “The Tupac Bible.” “I created this system where you could ask any question about Tupac and you could find the answers directly from what Tupac said in multiple interviews,” Hutton explained. “Why was Tupac mad at Notorious B.I.G.? How did Tupac feel about his natural father? Anything you wanted to know, we were going to stick with what Tupac said and put his own words into the movie. That’s why it took such a long time to make. I needed people to understand the vision.”
It’s no secret that finding the right director required an extensive search and one that Hutton took very seriously. A few weeks before filming was scheduled to start in Atlanta, Hutton reached out to Benny Boom, a two-time winner of B.E.T.’s Video Director of the Year Award who had helmed videos for hip-hop superstars, including Nicki Minaj, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Keyshia Cole, Akon and 50 Cent.
Boom remembers getting the call on the Wednesday before the holiday. “L.T. said, ‘Man, I’m at my wits’ end.’ At the end of the call he asked me if I wanted to direct the movie. I had not read the full draft of the script, so he sent it over. I printed it out, read it and told him, ‘I’m in.’ By Sunday I was in Atlanta.”
Here is a brief excerpt of the night’s evening which began and ended with the feeling—truly—that we were all a part of a cinematic, history-making moment.
Hutton’s Los Angeles office in 2011. The producer recalled, “My assistant came into my office and said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but Tupac is in the lobby.’ I said, ‘I don’t have time for your games today.’ She goes ‘I’m telling you, Tupac is in the lobby.’ I decide to see what this girl is talking about, so I walk out and see Demetrius Shipp sitting in the lobby. I’m like, ‘Lo and behold, this is crazy. It is Tupac!’ He was so shy, just like Pac was shy sometimes. I saw the innocence in his eyes; I saw the charm and personality that made all the women love Tupac. And when Demetrius smiled, I thought, ‘This guy even has the same dental work. Demetrius and Tupac have the same teeth!”
Actor Dominic Santana who plays Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight went through the casting process. “It never dawned on me that I could play Suge Knight,” Santana said. “Suge did things in the ’90s as a label owner that weren’t being done by anyone else. He had an ear for talent. He brought us iconic music legends. You can’t amass that kind of an empire and make that kind of impact on the music business if you’re just some Neanderthal. I felt the media probably left out things about Suge Knight just to paint a certain picture. I came into ‘All Eyez on Me’ with the attitude, ‘I want to know the other side of Suge Knight.’”