Felix Gary Gray’s smashing summer blockbuster, Straight Outta Compton, is a compelling examination of one of the most radical civil rights movements of the 1980s. The now classic story of N.W.A.’s creation of the hip hop genre and the subsequent plague of record labels and personal ambitons is portrayed in one of the most convincing films of 2015.
The film analyzes the power of art in social movements and how that art is then exploited. With impeccable performances from Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and Paul Giamatti as the infamous Jerry Heller, it is disheartening that none of these talented actors have been nominated for this year’s Oscars.
Though the perspective of the film has been skewed to favor the richest surviving members of N.W.A. (Dr. Dre and Ice Cube both are portrayed as heroes who fight for justice and individuality while MC Ren and DJ Yella are hardly mentioned), the message of the film is clear: there is unresolved social unrest in America.
From the dorm room halls to the dish station in Harris, powerful statements such as “Fuck the Police” and “Express Yourself” still echo around our own college. The expressions mirror the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement today, which was most recently championed by Beyoncé in her Super Bowl Halftime show. Cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson are plagued by a division between law enforcement and the public, and although one would like to believe that the impact N.W.A. made on the world incited a radical shift in people’s ideologies, there is no doubt at how much is left to be done.
Critics may find fault with the biased tone of the movie. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are portrayed as heroes who fight for free speech, which makes sense.
Nevertheless, the story progresses with such a captivating and emotional tone that no theatergoer will not leave disappointed. The disjointed but relatable friendships and the tragedy of group superstar Eazy-E is almost Shakespearean in execution. The death of a bright young talent due to his own greed and recklessness while his former friends continue their hugely successful solo careers leaves viewers wondering, like the characters in the film, “what could have been?”
The film’s cautionary tone against greed is most evident in the polarizing character of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Heller is an example of the genius of the film because he is not the stereotypical, one-dimensional evil record label representative; he is also portrayed as a misguided father figure. Heller evidently exploits the group for his own ambition. Yet without him, the group could have never made the cultural impact that it did. The murky morality of his character remains unresolved.
Overall, the film is a contemporary milestone. It expresses not only cultural and artistic phenomena but also extremely personal feelings and the connections that are formed and broken when one is a part of something much grander than oneself. •