Straight Outta Compton F Gary Gray (USA 2015) O’Shea
Jackson Jnr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Viewed: 8 Sept 2015;
Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket £3.75letting the word go out
Many bio-pics, in particular outta Hollywood are predictable
vehicles, aimed at the fan base with an agenda structured format designed to
make product promotion and American values an intrinsic part of the
scenario. The idea of story degenerates
into a series of fabrications designed to omit anything countervailing or inconvenient
that disrupts the selling of this type of image.
Early European literature both Greek and Roman often
mythologised biographical subjects. The
invention of the hero. The stated
justification for this idealisation of type was grounded in the prosocial idea
the model life, a life lived for an ideal over and beyond the self; dedicated
to city to state to an ideal as in the case of Lucretia an ideal of womanhood. The idea was that the lives of the great
(usually men) would act as exemplars for others to emulate. A path that would lead individuals out of the
narrow solipsistic confines of self interest to embrace the greater values.
Heroic mythologies firmly implanted in the civic psyches of both Athens and Rome, and post Enlightenment taken up as models for the emerging nationalisms of Europe. Straight Outta Compton has something of this same heroic sensibility at least in the first 90 minute section of the movie which documents the rise of Niggaz wit Attitudes in the personages of Ice Cube, Eazy E and Dr Dre. F Gary Gray puts something rare into a Hollywood Movie: a hard core look at the actuality of American ghetto life, a focus on group consciousness, and the way in which the young black rap and proto hip hop artists represented an artikulation of the despair of their race and generation. Gray films his protagonists as was: members of a disadvantaged repressed despised ethnic group, deracinated blacks, fighting back to tell it; demand a voice. A voice outside the bullshit. “You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge…..” quips a young black mugging the school bus…and his words resonate through the film’s depiction of the rise of NWA. The generations of blacks have had to come to terms with their position in US society. Alternatively feared and despised. Feared if successful; despised if perceived as being part of the lumpen underclass. With most Blacks seen as lumpen with police and whites struggling to make any distinction: black is black. Shoot first. The latter being the motto of many police forces which seem to see their duty as being to keep niggers in the dirt. The black response: THE anger. Deep unfocused anger, that runs through the arteries of the black community. But there is a recurring resolve of this anger into actions words and deeds. A remarkable but uneven political social cultural and musical re-action. There has always been black political community reaction – such organisation caused Grithiths Birth of a Nation to be kept from screening in many American cities such as Chicago. But Music is the expressive language that first penetrated the black message of consciousness through the communication veins of the nation. The first language of anger: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday played out that all was not well.
The generation of radical political action Newton, Carmicheal the Black Panthers, black power activists blew itself out but left a trace of consciousness raising and local activism. But 15 years on from this revolutionary ethnic social explosion nothing much had changed in most US cities. The experience of being black little changed, the experience of being young black in the ghetto, a humiliating powerlessness life.
The pressures of daily white racism, instrumental in policing, on black experience led to a new music of protest and truth saying. Niggaz wit Attitudes absorbed the anger turned to hate on the streets, internalising the frustrations of the hoods and spat it out back at America. Straight Outta Compton. The rap of Ice Cube Lazy E et al, like the wordless solos of Coltrane and Davis, and Billie’s lyrics are spontaneous inspired speaking in tongues. The unconscious expression of the spirit of those who aren’t going to take it any more. The point made by Greek and Roman that there are moments when individuals cease being individuals and transform into mediums, sensitised oracles of their times. As F Gary Gray builds up the documentary form of his movie and we see NWA perform locally and tour nationally, taking on the police and authorities with the sharp edge of uncompromising Niggaz Attitude. Like Billie H their words cutting out the shape of truth of anger and resistance. A group of men outta Compton defined by being part of black experience as much as by their talent. It’s true Gray or perhaps his producers sometimes seem uncomfortable with this attitude, try to soft pedal what we witness. When we see NWA in Detroit with the local police going to stop the show if the play Fuck tha Police, they play the song but we don’t distinctly hear the words. The words with their brazen attitude of contempt are muted. We don’t really experience the Niggaz act of resistance. But for all that, Gray’s movie does represent Ice Cube Dr Dre Eazy E and the others as a collective response to the actuality of toxic race relations, ghetto life. The final third of the film chronicles individuation. Much more Hollywood comfort zone. The break up of NWA over managerial and money. The personal stories, including Eazy E’s death from Aids, overwhelm the collective expression. It’s another story; perhaps one that Straight OUTTA Compton didn’t need. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org