Simple & Sexy

I got to crash Los Angeles for a month where I turned over another year of life.  What I found interesting was that, though big ideas are never out of season, many aspiring filmmakers are taking somewhat of an East Coast methodology to their feature projects.  Creators of my generation – that weird generation tragically caught between film and digital – are coming around to conceiving very simple projects.  Cameras are everywhere.  The new iPhone 6s will be able to shoot high definition video in 4K.  People are being yelled at.  “What’s the hold up?!”  “Pick up the camera and shoot!”  My theory is that many filmmakers of my generation grew up in the established Blockbuster Era and admired an antiquated system.  I’d say this goes especially for those of us that studied at an academic institution where the process of making films was theorized.  We studied the classics that defined the limits of the art form.  Then we studied the intimate themed pictures from the 60’s and 70’s that questioned the inner natures of mankind.  All the while, the number of movies being produced per year were shrinking to a small pot of “shoot ’em up” and “catastrophic CG events.”  The questions became, “What stories are being funded” and “How does this story reach an audience?”

I’m happy to see that the wave is now about making the damn thing.  That’s slowly becoming everyone’s motto and not just the guys on the fringes of the industry.  I have a camera.  I have some friends and some professionals that are interested in being a part of a good story.  I have actors that want to speak some truth.  I believe the independents are reclaiming the art form. The numbers to create are back to resembling those of the 1970’s and 80’s when it was relatively cheap to process a 35mm print.  Since digital is beating out film, shooting on 35mm has gotten even cheaper than it was 10 years ago.  This is a great time to take five or less actors and make a film.  At times, I admonish myself for forgetting that I loved films like The Last Tango in Paris.  So simple.  So sexy.  So influential in regard to the personal relationship one could have with the camera.  American palettes are becoming slightly more European as it’s become more feasible to produce micro budget films.  Therefore, the lane is wide open for the “set up and go.”  In honor of my rejuvenation, I give you this clip from Bertolucci’s Last Tango…

No Idea is Original: The Importance of Pushing Through

I’m working on this script that I conceived one evening after being distressed over all of the violence in Chicago.  Specifically some violence that cut close to home.  Pretty simple storyline with a lot of heart and a lot of meaning.  I know it’s a rough 1st draft.  It feels rough.  There seems to be so much more that can be said.  I’m close to the halfway point but currently in LA working on some transition situations.  What I’m writing isn’t necessarily an LA type of narrative.  In fact, I have a short list of ideas brewing in the creative department and neither one of them seems like an explosive hit.  A sleeper hit?  Possibly.  But they are stories that are on my heart.

I guess this is a motivational post to keep me in the writer’s chair.  My theory on the sleeper hit is that the story simply began as a small idea that was weighing heavy on the writer’s heart.  Fruitvale Station is a great example.  There had been abundant headlines regarding police brutality and the desecration of the Black image.  Sean Bell pre-dated Oscar Grant.  Amadou Diallo before Mr. Bell.  These are the famous cases.  I remember first seeing a write up on director Ryan Coogler and his script about the last day of Oscar Grant’s life.  Grant’s death at the BART station was indeed a tragedy.  But I didn’t know who Grant was as a person, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a two hour movie about that point.  I knew what the papers told me.  Grant could have been just about any young Black male from the inner-city.  Coogler had this idea about filming the antithesis of that ideology.  From his perspective, Grant was more than just the Black face at the wrong place during the wrong minute.  In the romantic words of Chance the Rapper, “Everybody’s somebody’s everything.”  That was the heart of the story.  Oscar Grant was a young Black male on the cusp of turning many things around, and he happened to be everything to several people.  That’s difficult to face.  Grief is a strenuous emotion that is so incredibly innate.  That was the selling point of the film.  Oscar Grant meant the world to somebody, just like you and me.  Then we struggle to process the thinking behind casually placing threats on another human being’s life.  Coogler’s idea was to focus on the one man rather than the circus that is called justice.  Make them watch the one man.  Make them feel the one man.  Make them miss the one man.  How pertinent a mission.

Ideas are so important.  Very little is original but there is worth in discovering the original voice behind the idea.  I have made mistakes in the past where I felt an idea wasn’t compelling enough.  Or I felt an idea wasn’t marketable.  I would badger myself into believing that no one would care except for me.  It’s false.  It’s so unbelievably false.  How could no one care when there are close to 8 billion people on this Earth.  As a writer, at times I trip upon my own feet and nosedive into a vacuum.  That’s not the nature of civilization.  We don’t live in vacuums.  Every thing we do, every single day affects mankind in some form or another.  Even if we do nothing.  In the doing of nothing, we may have saved a person’s life.  We would never know what could have happened had we left our seats.  That’s not motivational talk for sloth.  It’s just an interesting thought to me.  Please strive for productivity.  That was me saying the decisions being made every second affects the history of our time.  If we are all connected through an intricate series of decisions, then our stories are worth telling for someone.  There will always be at least one person that will have enjoyed the minutes that you have blessed them with.  I’ll keep pushing through with these ideas and inspire myself to create new ones along the way.  The challenge for myself is to fight against missing out on what could have been.  A beautiful idea.

Bare Acceptance


Above is an image of any artist during critical review.  I was discussing how vulnerable a situation it is for artists to bare their work to the community for constructive criticism.  For me, the process is more nerve-racking than the actual release of the finished product, and that moment is scary enough.  The anxiety that comes with sitting in the back of a room and watching the audience respond to an initial cut of one’s film is piercing to the bone.  The artist is exposing his or her theoretical nudeness.  It’s frightening because the audience understands its purpose and prepares itself to pick at the sweat that was put into the project.  It is the moment of truth for some.  Do I have something?  Was this project worth it?  Is it palatable?  Should I just jump off of a building and carry my dreams and aspirations with me?

I’m currently in the scripting process now.  The beauty of that is the idea that the script is never complete until the film wraps.  My last critical review was sending the 2nd draft out to a specific circle of readers.  The best thing I heard was that my talent has matured by leaps and bounds.  Even a statement such as that helps me to believe that I have the wherewithal to sit back down and create an even better product based upon the notes.  It lets me know that I belong in the medium.  The notes given totally ripped the script apart of course.  Dissected the thing into more pieces than a frog in 9th grade biology.  The positive take home was that the script had given them enough to think over.  There were enough issues to work out and more than enough avenues to arrive at a favorable destination.  I think the artist must believe in that being the gift that he or she has given the critic.  We have provided another fertile opportunity to think both creatively and critically, which fosters conversations on how to provide the perfect product.  What’s perfection?  Perfection is the artist working at maximum potential to offer, at that specific moment in time, the best possible creation that he or she can.  So we come to the critical table fully exposed to see how we may evolve into something even more beautiful.

For my friend who is showing a first cut of his debut feature film to a hand selected audience, I wish you the best and the most peace for tomorrow.  Understand that those present tomorrow have arrived to hear what you have to say.  They have come to experience your perceptions and your ideologies because their interest is strong enough.  This is your moment to shine in your bareness and to grow in your craft.  We rise from the trenches to witness the dusk of yesterday’s battles and the dawning of tomorrow’s success.  God speed, sir.

To Find A Murderer

So I ran into this video essay on the similarities between Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder and David Fincher’s Zodiac.  Lewis Criswell gives a very compelling argument on the influence that Joon-Ho’s film had over Fincher’s cinematic interpretation of the hunt for the infamous U.S. Zodiac Killer.  One element that inspired me was both director’s use of time for their characters.  I’m always interested in time because it creates urgency that pushes a story forward.  Not all narratives are restricted by time but there’s something about including time in the mix that pressurizes the plot.  We as human beings have a very specific relationship to the notion of time and it affects each and every one of us differently.

I found myself enthralled in Criswell’s video essay particularly because I had just lost a cousin to murder.  The plots of both films are instantaneously relatable to me.  I have already created this narrative of my cousin’s killer in my mind.  The walls are closing in on him from different angles.  The police have begun their investigation.  The primary detective knows that he or she but only has so much time before the killer falls victim to an act of retaliation.  Once that happens, there’s another murder to solve which in turn begets a cycle of vicious violence.  Where this could have been a simple homicide involving a young Black man that the detectives have never met and couldn’t truly care less about, the heat is on because the city cannot afford more stories like this one.  The mayor cannot afford a continuation of this story having just been re-elected, and therefore the commissioner cannot afford more murder.  It becomes top down responsibility.

On the flip side.  Retaliation is a priority because friends have made certain promises in the heat of alcohol fueled nights where pictures of offsprings are shared.  Friends promise to have one another’s back and be there for the shorties.  They claim that blood couldn’t be thicker.  They consume one another’s spirit while sharing the blunt and consider themselves a family unit.  When one goes down, retribution takes precedence over passivity.  How can one cope with the pain if not to pass it on?  Why should this man breathe after quelling the breath of another?  With that in mind, action has to take place on their end before the law works against their desires.  Sometimes prison is too comfortable for shame.  Especially if one reserves the right to continue watching their young grow.  No.  Life wasn’t designed to be fair.  The gun is the law and the jury shall double as the executioner.

At the heart of it all, the protagonists are attempting to beat the clock.  View the essay below and tell me your thoughts.


People are doing some pretty interesting stuff with digital film.  I’ve seen similar concepts and I appreciate them all.  It does seem like our limbs tend to lead lives of their own, and at times experience a little more drama than we give credit for.  Check out Cutaway, a short film directed by Kazik Radwanski.  It is now a Staff Pick of the week by Vimeo.  It’s slow but it is some beautiful cinematic poetry.  Stick with it.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Have you seen it?  I’m just now getting around to seeing this festival darling from last year.  It proved to be one of those inspiring works of art that have made me slap the side of my head with envy.  Why hadn’t I thought of this?  But what I love about this film is that it redefines beauty.  The film is shot in black and white and the contrast places this story in the genre of film noir.  The camera style appears to be an ode to the eyes of Fellini, Hitchcock and Jarmusch.  It’s a very meticulous and classical film.  Ana Lily Amirpour displays that she is a clear student of cinematic language.  The pace is hauntingly slow but the electronic soundtrack establishes the pulse.

There’s not much background information given in this film.  There is a vampire lurking the streets of a destitute fictional town in Iran called Bad City.  Where she came from doesn’t matter.  We don’t get much info about who she is except for her love of slow records and theft of the delinquent men she kills.  She believes in the power of goodness.  She believes in freedom.  She kindles a romantic situation with a neighborhood boy named Rash.  The director has gone on record to say that this film is not a feminist statement but in a time when women’s rights are being attacked politically, it is very difficult to see it any other way.  Our young female protagonist is strong enough and independent enough to walk alone in the dark whilst putting the fear of God in the men she encounters.  Even in love, there is no weakness.  She’s done “bad things” is what she says but her actions are championed.  There is no retribution for what seems to be her gravest kill, but even then, she’s worked to balance the field of power for the good people whom she admires.  I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  Its biggest triumphs are the elongated silences, master cinematography by Lyle Vincent, and the soundtrack.  The shattering noise when Amirpour’s vampire kills or threatens to kill is so piercing that it stretches the dynamics of her character.  This unassuming girl with no name and what seems to be ownership of only two outfits just might be one of the most fearsome beautiful characters I’ve seen in a few years.  Even the way she excepts romance is thrilling.  She allows herself to be woo’d but it’s so dangerous because we as the viewer understand wholeheartedly that she wields all of the power and I found myself praying that Rash would not fall prey to one false move.  It is a very strong statement and innovative cinematic analysis on the power dynamics of romantic liaisons.  She is romanced because she very well desires to be romanced.  Rash has tricked no one.  Rash has manipulated no one.  He is silently invited because that’s what she wants.  Amazing!  Kudos to Amirpour and everyone involved with this film.  I advise a viewing of this well-paced and intricate movie.

Dark Side of the Moon

I was 17 when I first heard the name of Pink Floyd’s iconic rock album.  I didn’t even know what it meant to them at the time but I couldn’t help but allow the title to swim in my thoughts for several days after viewing the cover art.  I’d imagine what this dark side may look like and theoretically, it should have always looked like the bright side.  It’s the same moon.  But we were always looking at one side.  Like spending half the night chasing the pleasant side of the pillow.  Shifting it, only to shift again an hour later when the current side loses its coolness.  I could believe in this concept of the album and I consumed the sounds of that band.  I was a newcomer that had arrived years too late.  The party ended.  The records had been spun within an inch of its life but I could still move to the echo.  And I did.  Quietly.  This young Black boy way too frightened to be written off as a lame.  The worst of the worst.  Not being cool enough to exist.

I’d been riding through Englewood in Chicago this past week and I thought about this strange place that could possibly exist between the bright and dark sides of the moon.  The city of Chicago has this spectacular “woe is me” way to itself when it comes to its media portrayal.  There was a three year period where all media factions desired to place a lens on Chicago’s darker sides.  They compared it to the wild west where anything was bound to happen and the city could only survive with help from the national guard.  It felt like the city was begging for help.  So much so that the impact was felt in the Eastern Hemisphere.  During my stay in England, the British youth would constantly bring up Chief Keef and Chicago violence; all were inquisitive about the validity of such imagery.  “Is Chicago really that dangerous?”  No, Chicago as a whole is not that dangerous but some parts are dying.  Some parts are in desperate despair.  Some parts are really the dark side of the moon.  That’s how Chicago operates.  Some places like Englewood caught some national light but the planet spun on its axis.  It was there yesterday then forgotten, left for the artists and activists to keep hope alive with little financial support.  While the inhabitants continued to suffer, Chicago turned about face and displayed her shinier parts.  She showed the craftsmanship of Millennium Park and the trendiness of the Northside.  If anyone were to come to Chicago as a transplant, it is very easy to get comfortable in the feeling that places like Englewood aren’t cool enough to exist.  They are not “sketchy.”  They are “dangerous,” says the transplant.  “Why go below 35th Street,” says the transplant.  And that is why for a city as beautiful as Chicago, Illinois, you get images like the ones I had taken during my developmental scout.

I’ve been cruising through Englewood to document the lifestyle as a setting for the current script that I am writing.  The story takes a look at how senseless and cyclical violence can become in a community that is haunted by a spirit of unrest.  Marathon is about a very intelligent teenage boy who is pushed beyond his boundary of cool when he is forced to except the community’s code of manhood.  It is terribly difficult to describe the energy of Englewood to someone that hasn’t been there.  I’ve lived many years in NYC and there wasn’t one area there that could encompass it.  NYC can be unsettling but the electricity never dies.  I felt alive no matter where I stood.  There were streets in East New York that were very dangerous but the energy kept me moving.  I felt like a mugging could come any moment so my feet would do the work.  It’s still alive.  There is a different energy in Chicago.  The closest place I’ve seen come to it may be New Orleans.  But both being VERY different.  Englewood has some of the city’s most beautiful and hard working people, but unfortunately the spirit of those 3 square miles wreaks of death.  There is distrust amongst the children.  I got out of my car and held up my phone to take a photo of a dilapidated building and a block that was sprawling with young kids had suddenly dried.  They ran away looking at me over their shoulders.  This is childhood for them.  The pain and agony.  Looking back rather than forward.  Something’s always happened.  Someone’s been disrespected.  Someone’s been killed.  Someone used to live there and now they’ve moved on.  To where?  No one knows.  But through it all, Englewood is theirs.  It is home to thousands and they are holding tough because home is what they’ve got.  And they believe in it wholeheartedly.  Check out some of my photos below that have inspired some ideas for my new script.









Two Cities

Filmmaker and director of Evolution of a Criminal, Darius Clark Monroe continues to pursue excellence in cinema.  His latest short effort is a poetic look at a well decorated Katrina survivor that has been commissioned by Time, Inc. as a part of a six-episode docu-series called New Orleans, Here & Now.  Monroe’s Two Cities follows Dr. Mtanguiliza Sanyika on a harrowing walk through the New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward ten years after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on an already economically challenged city.  The visual accompanies Dr. Sanyika’s auto-biographical interview that narrates his academic rise and the effect that Katrina played on his life.

Monroe made a successful attempt at creating a dual experience for the visual and the auditory.  The lens is very lyrical as the viewer drifts along each image.  There is so much motion that it feels as if Monroe has lifted you in his large arms and carried you safely over the ruptured grounds of the current Lower 9th Ward.  The visual can survive without sound.  It’s that beautiful, thanks in major part to Monroe’s longstanding Director of Photography, Daniel Patterson.    Not only does Patterson’s eye make a marvel of a depressed canvas, but Dr. Sanyika’s voice is so mesmerizing that one could listen to his speech in darkness and imagine an eruption of colors.  There is much character to his voice.  In Two Cities, there are two different experiences occurring for the human mind, accompanying one another so well that the 13 minutes spent watching this concise exposé falls no short of transcendence.

Watch Darius Clark Monroe’s Two Cities on Entertainment Weekly here:

Straight Outta Compton

The “ghetto bird” peruses the sky with its bright eye detailing the wide avenues and spinal network of alleyways in South Central Los Angeles.  A cavalcade of “LA’s Finest” precede the rumble of door busting tanks with smiling faces painted on the noses of the rams.  The color wheel is completely exploited, though we always seem to return to two of the most pivotal and dangerous colors on the palette.  It’s hot.  It’s dark.  It’s sunny.  It’s loud.  It’s exciting.  It’s brutal.  It’s Straight Outta Compton.

Had Selma been released 7 days later, I’d be able to say that 2015 has been the most explosive year for films that revolve around stories concerning the Black community.  Alas, Selma was released on December 25, 2014.  No matter though.  Straight Outta Compton kicked the doors of expectation right off the hinges.  Many predicted a success, but how many could have foreseen a success to this magnitude.  The film, directed by F. Gary Gray, returned an opening weekend box office number of over $60 million.  The numbers continue to rise and as of August 18, 2015, a mere four days out, Straight Outta Compton boasts a whopping domestic total of nearly $75 million.  It is the largest weekend opener for a “Black film” in the history of cinema.  Even if we considered films with a Black lead, there are only three that top it:  I Am Legend; Rush Hour 2 and Hancock.  A bit of a side note, Chris Tucker is the Black lead in Rush Hour 2.  Tucker made his cinematic debut in F. Gary Gray’s first feature film, Friday.  Many things come full circle.  Anyhow, Straight Outta Compton is the 5th biggest August debut ever and 7th biggest R-rated debut of all time, as reported by  Needless to say, this movie is HUGE.  After the 2 hours and 27 minutes spent watching the truncated timeline of classic Hip Hop group N.W.A.’s rise, demise, evolution and legacy, I personally feel like everyone involved deserves this historic moment.

What a ride!  Caution; there are some spoilers in my review, though it’s difficult to spoil history that’s been so heavily covered.  When the movie begins inside of a dilapidated trap house in Los Angeles, there was risk of stale tropes and a cliche start to the common Horatio Alger story.  Then F. Gary Gray does something that immediately pulls the viewer in.  He raises the tension and the sense of vulnerability at the same time.  This is Eazy-E’s beginning and he’s a fast talker, but he’s not above danger.  He’s not completely safe.  If it’s not the trapped mouse in a house packed with mangy looking felines, it’s the whistle from outside alerting those in the ring of fire that a new enemy is swiftly approaching:  the LAPD.  That’s when all Hell breaks loose.  It’s a raid.  Wood is splintered.  Glass is shattered.  Bodies fly in a multitude of directions.  Our hero narrowly escapes.  That is what the city is and the movie so accurately portrays that energy.  This is not a quiet film.  The beginning tells us everything we need to know; and that is a group of characters find themselves in many rooms together and things get hot, noisy, chaotic, sweaty, dangerous, and tight within one quarter of their lives.  It happens that fast.  For our protagonists, Straight Outta Compton looks at close to ten years of their lives.  For the audience, it’s 2 hours and 27 minutes, and I am so sure that when the surviving members look back on the times, that it pretty much feels that way to them as well.

A lot feeds into the success of this film, marketing and publicity being a couple of huge factors.  As far as the product is concerned, the performances are superb.  The cast of Straight Outta Compton is rounded out by fresh faces: among them are Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube and Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella.  Aldis Hodge, a not so fresh face but still on the blossoming side of his career, plays MC Ren with so much gravity that he totally nails this dangerous Hip Hop artist that is a bit more weathered in the streets than his group mates, with the exception of Eazy-E.  Paul Giamatti, who gives an inspiring performance as Jerry Heller, anchors the entire cast with his impeccable dexterity, experience and energy.  He’s just as much alive as the musical soundtrack under the concert scenes.  When Heller describes the nature of business during his final meeting with Eazy-E, Giamatti has a hundred million things occurring behind his eyes that it seems he’s one bad sentence away from melting into a tsunami of tears.  In the same scene, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E has his work cut out to remain unwavering and steadfast on his mission to place much distance between him and an advisor that has taken the roll of a father figure in some respects.  It is strikingly clear that Mitchell’s performance does not lose itself in the supposed gangster persona of Eric Wright (Eazy-E).  Mitchell succeeds so well in his job of transitioning from severe Crip affiliate to a young man holding onto his last rope of life.  He never loses sight of the fact that Eazy-E, as well as the other members, were still very young when they began and young adults when it ended.  No scene visually describes it more so than when Eazy-E falters in the studio during the recording of “Boyz-n-the- Hood.”  For all the brass it took to walk into that red zone at the start of the film, the not so simple task of recording one lyric on beat in front of his friends makes Eazy-E completely self-conscious.  When the most stirring moment in Eazy-E’s life is portrayed on the screen, the scene is a torrent of emotion thanks in part to Mitchell’s handling of such a demanding task.  It is absolutely the most heartrending part of the film.

Corey Hawkins does a great job of being the glue that ties the narrative together as Dr. Dre.  If Eazy-E is at the center of the N.W.A. story, then Dr. Dre expands the scope of the narrative.  Hawkins captures that magnificently as he responds to the dangerous avenues being navigated while perfecting the art of musical creation.  There is risk in every moment.  There is loss at every turn; whether it be the loss of his daughter, the loss of his brother, the loss of his affiliates or even the loss of a hurtfully estranged friend.  Hawkins processes it all and plays the pressure that amounts when a young man loses the strength to reconcile it all.  The breakout performance is given by O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of O’Shea Jackson Sr., also known as Ice Cube.  Jackson Jr. is absolutely comfortable in his feature film debut and embodies everything that makes Ice Cube famous for being the person he is.  Jackson Jr. exhibits the intelligence, intuition, attitude, bravado and brawn.  There were a couple of moments where the actor’s effort could have used a bit of lightness but it is abundantly clear that Jackson Jr. loses himself in the uniqueness of Ice Cube’s presence.  In Cube’s contract meeting with Heller, the actor may have pushed a bit hard, opting to overhaul playing any slight moment of softness, but it did feel as if this same choice was spot on during Cube’s interrogation of Priority Records executive Bryan Turner.

Speaking of hard, another breakout performance was Matthew Libatique’s intoxicating cinematography.  Libatique is well established but he brings something completely fresh to musical biopics.  There is a perfect balance of his commercial eye with his highly attentive independent sensibilities.  The movement of the camera had so much energy yet still maintained a sense of calculation.  By shying away from fast paced whip pans and driving the dolly, Gray further beefed the value of the music.  The marriage of sound and cinema is rarely as exhilarating.  The bass of the music directs inner movement and placing the lens next to the mouths of those performing intensified the sitting experience.  One has to fight the terribly difficult battle of not committing a theatrical sin by remaining in the seat rather than hitting the aisles and taking the feet back to 1989.  It is the music many of us remember.  It is the percussive aggression many of us remember.  The THUMP Duh THUMP THUMP that escaped our speakers on hot summer days with the windows down in blood curdling traffic just to let the next man know that you aren’t the one to mess with.  Stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine.  It’s that body shake noise that ends the night with a pressing need for a third shower.  I embarrassingly wanted so bad to hold dialogue with the screen but such an impulse would have been criminal during an early day screening in a room built to hold 250 people, but at present, held 10.  What is this movie in a room full of people?  What is that response like?  What is that experience?

Straight Outta Compton is a political movie.  It is not a simple biopic about an insignificant musical act.  The injustice shown in this film is so current that I began to feel my temperature rise.  The biopic dealt with a theme of police brutality in the inner city communities of color.  This film, about a Hip Hop group that grew to prominence in the late ’80’s, placed a camera on activities that are currently being exposed in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York, Chicago, etc.  The list goes on.  The list has always went on ever since the establishment of the sharecropping system.  The brutality is parasitic activity against the mental stability of an entire community.  That energy is one of the threads of the film.  The LAPD overexert their power and abuse the young Black men physically, mentally and emotionally.  On top of that, the nature of the music industry does its fair share of manipulation and advantage play.  The men specifically in this Hip Hop group are abused and they respond with abusive language and actions.  Life for them becomes savage and the first use of protection, if not fatal action, is vitriolic language.  This is oppression at its finest.  What’s amazing about this film, as well as the group themselves, is that they brave the response.  Safety is a constant issue but rarely a choice.  The LAPD brutally finger our protagonists and throw them to the ground, N.W.A. answers with “F*ck the Police.”  Police threaten arrest in another state if the song is performed on stage, N.W.A. responds by literally saying “F*ck the Police.”  The oppressive abuse is filmed and shown to the masses.  They are vulgar activists in a vile sort of Black Panther spirit.  Both cut from very similar cloths.  Both immortalized as a result of their relationship to policing tactics in California.  The viewing is inspiring because it reinforces the idea that we as a community are not obligated to accept the mule treatment.  We do have the legal right to fight for civility and exercise our freedom of speech.  We do have the right to rise up against an abusive establishment.  If nothing has changed in 25 years, then we have a responsibility to seek better and force the change ourselves.

For all the praise of the film, an honest look at the narrative would suggest that the marginalization of Black woman does continue on the big screen.  I have some interesting thoughts about this topic.  Interesting to myself anyway.  Yes, an injustice has been done to Black women with this film.  The misogyny can’t be overlooked.  More so than that, the exclusion of women can be considered harrowing.  If I knew nothing about the group and saw the movie, I’d walk away thinking that a few of the members added important women to their lives later in their careers.  Going even further, I’d think that the women that they did find weren’t that important to the process as it evolved.  That would be all good if it were true.  Ice Cube’s wife randomly pops up in the movie with no introduction.  It was so jarring that I thought I may have missed a very short scene prior to her sitting with Cube and Bryan Turner.  One scene in which maybe she was sitting around in the studio and had a one liner or anything.  She dropped in the movie with no real purpose to pushing the narrative other than the point that the real Ice Cube, the Executive Producer of the film Ice Cube, has to go home at the end of the night.  In reality, Kimberly Woodruff has been a part of Cube’s life since the late 80’s.  In the film, she pops up as support to tell him that he’s doing well in his decisions.  Nicole Young, Dr. Dre’s wife, has an even less essential role.  Ultimately, as far as the film is concerned, she’s simply the only girl that doesn’t sleep with him, and therefore, she’s the real thing.  That’s about as deep as we get with her.  She is also Dre’s current wife.  But during the time that the movie covers, Dr. Dre should be dating R&B singer Michel’le.  Tamica Wright, Eazy-E’s wife, has the most important role as she deals with financial matters.  She comes in late and there just isn’t much time to explore her but at least her character pushed the narrative.

I’ll say this.  I’m not surprised.  I was never surprised.  I never thought women would have a large role or voice in this story.  Maybe I should be somewhat ashamed for further supporting that behavior.  Concerning the group that’s in question, some horrible things have been said about women.  God awful things.  They weren’t concerned about the plight of women when they were teenagers and to be honest, I don’t think they’ve fully reconfigured all of their views as adult men.  Going even further, I don’t think any of them ever intellectualized their views on women.  I couldn’t imagine they’ve ever thought that deeply about it.  The music that they made was a complete product of their environment.  To really go into some of what they’ve said and a lot of what they’ve done just may have been a completely different movie.  It would take a truthfully intelligent analysis of the treatment of Black women by Black men in impoverished settings to get at the root of N.W.A. because I believe they were living in their times.  When I was a kid, all of the boys thought the pimps were the dopest because they had women and money.  When our parents were teenagers, the Blaxploitation films with the pimps and naked women in it made all of the money.  Then they turned around and told us how those were their favorite movies and the men were killing the women “bitches.”  Then our parents’ parents were witnessing the medical revolution that showed women actually enjoyed sex and could have orgasms.  Who would’ve known?!  WHOA!!!  The mental and physical abuse of the Black woman is a pathology that needs a very serious look.  As far as this film is concerned, I believe Dr. Dre’s relationship with Michel’le would have made for a more complex and interesting character than we have in the present movie.  It does get dangerous for a couple of reasons though.  One very surface reason is that Michel’le would have been difficult to cast and play with some seriousness.  Maybe if she weren’t current with the R&B Diva’s then the task would be a bit simpler.  Fact is, I’ve never seen anyone with Michel’le’s unique octave.  Never in my life.  Maybe the direction of the project steers clear of reproducing Michel’le’s voice and stick to her story.  That’s a option.  Thing is, Dr. Dre never made amends with his past.  He moved on.  As awful as it all sounds, he literally moved on.  And what’s even worse is that N.W.A. was made extremely popular by saying the worst things a man could say about a woman.  Then Ice Cube left N.W.A. and continued to woman bash.  Then Dr. Dre left N.W.A. and made The Chronic and proudly sang the chorus, “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks. Lick on these nuts and suck the dick.”  He sold over 5 million albums in its current day.  What does one do with that?  I don’t know what I’d do with that.  Maybe I’d try to find a way to make a statement but the statement in real life was so clear; there is a community of Black men with such a low impression of Black women that groups of men have become millionaires through the use of denigration.  And N.W.A. were the progenitors of that.  And that becomes a different movie.  And that was the movie that the producers decided not to make because the producers happened to be the actual progenitors of that language in Hip Hop. They shied away from it.  They feared it.  They told the story they wanted to tell.  And this could be because I’m a guy myself, and I won’t shy away from that, but I wasn’t dying to see it either as I watched the movie that was presented to me.  I related the forces they were fighting with the forces that are a huge issue for me today.  If the movie wasn’t completely honest with the women that were present during the rise of N.W.A., it was very current with the social atmosphere of this country.  I feel bad for the women that were there and not represented.  Do these men deserve to be taken to task for the exclusion of women in this film?  Absolutely.  They made the choice and they must man up when asked about it.  But we do have to consider what is shown, how much of it is shown, and at what point it becomes a different movie.  We watch films to nestle under redeemable characters.  Abuse is a serious topic and I’m not sure if there were many women associated with N.W.A. at the time that weren’t abused.  I don’t know how I’d keep the spirit of the existent product, show the truth about their abuse of women and redeem them while blasting the lyrics about sexual abuse.  I’m not sure if F. Gary Gray could either.

P.S. the “Bye Felicia” scene was irresponsible and cheap.  I do feel that way.  Leave it out or go further.  The way it is right now is all laughs.  Or in a sparse theater, kind of awkward.

On a less pressing note, and like all biopics, squeezing so much material in so little time raises many questions.  The timeline during the second half of the movie wasn’t as clear as the first half.  Ice Cube’s part became less interesting once they all survive the beef.  Dr. Dre’s falling out of favor with Death Row materialized well but his exit appeared too easy and very swift.  The film perfectly added cynical danger to Suge Knight’s character but it fell somewhat flat when dealing with Dr. Dre’s departure.  Eazy-E’s story remained strong and well connected throughout though it wasn’t clear how long in actual time he suffered toward the end of his life.  Eazy-E famously dies of AIDS.  The question I had was how long did he suffer symptoms before he was forced to see a doctor?  By watching the film, it could’ve been anywhere from 2 years to several months.  What about Eazy’s wife, Tamica Wright?  Also, Eazy’s death was a very publicized moment that changed the course of how HIV was viewed in the Black community.  I personally don’t feel the movie correctly explored how big Eazy’s death was for the country.  We move from that to Dr. Dre’s exit of Death Row.  Eazy’s death was truly a pivotal moment in transforming the way heterosexual lovers viewed the virus; before the death of Eazy-E, as his line in the film expressed, the HIV virus was still primarily attributed to the gay community.  This unraveling of sorts hints at the pertinent bond and charisma that the actors had when playing off of each other.  The scenes are that much more powerful when they are together.  Each actor is still strong enough to keep the audience invested in every character’s solo journey, but what translates off of that screen when they are in the same room is mesmerizing.  It was as if they’d known each other their entire lives.  It just happens that Jason Mitchell is given most of the meat in the second half as the film slowly becomes Eazy-E’s tribute.  With all of that said, I believe this is truly a powerful movie.  I’d love to experience it again.  I think it encapsulates a difficult as well as a magical time for so many of us.  I wasn’t old enough to understand the things that were shown and said, but N.W.A.’s music filtered through the halls of my home.  Their voices brought about an energy indicative of a good time in South Chicago during a period of extremely violent unrest.  They are so full of controversy, and so troubling, and so bold, and so raw and so live.  Straight Outta Compton truly is a beautifully complicated piece of work.