Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Starring O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti
Director of Photography: Matthew Libatique
Music by Joseph Trapanese
Edited by Billy Fox, Michael Tronick
Written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff / Story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Andrea Berloff
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Rating: 8,5 out of 10
Straight Outta Compton is an effective musical biopic that is rare for centering on a group that made highly controversial music. N.W.A. basically invented (or at least popularized) gangsta rap and the movie does a fine job of showing their journey from the beginning to the end in great detail. I’ll discuss the value of those details in a second. The performances by Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are great, and so is Paul Giamatti as the ambiguous manager. The music keeps us going through the rather long 147 minutes and the movie does a great job at evoking the racial tensions and police brutality at the time, effectively drawing conclusions for today. It’s a powerful movie that worked for me, but its problems kept nagging at me anyway, which makes it difficult to evaluate as a whole. It's also hard for me to say how well the movie works without nostalgia, which played a big part for me, which just goes to show how subjective we view movies.
I’m not the first to write about the issue of sexism in this movie, but I still think it is relevant. The movie has a strange way of dealing with women. For the most part we don’t see much of them at all, except for one scene with Dre’s mother (Angela Elayne Gibbs). Once the success of the group starts, suddenly the screen is constantly filled with half- or completely naked women in hotel rooms or at pool parties. They have no names and not always faces and are sometimes discarded like useless objects, especially painful in the Felicia scene, the low point of the movie. The problem is not only the depiction, but also the question of the movie’s stance on it. It shows these events and the nudity but there is never any idea of criticism in it. The only major female characters we get to know are various girlfriends and wives who never play any significant role for the plot or the characters. Their appearance doesn’t matter really and these scenes often feel like the most carelessly written ones. They are not thought or forgotten. What happens to Dre’s son from the beginning? Ice Cube’s wife Kim is not introduced but simply there with a name, as if we must know her. Tomica, Eazy-E’s wife/girlfriend (the movie doesn’t tell us) gets a little nice moment of being the only one seeing Jerry Heller’s mistakes, but not much is made of it. They are never really angry at the men. They are just there.
The question of the exclusion of any content concerning especially Dr. Dre’s violence against women is a legitimate one. It is justified to ask why it was left out, first in connection to the mentioned sexism and second in comparison to everything that was left in. It emphasizes the sexism by showing only the “innocent” sexism of nudity and being unfriendly to women but not actual violence or abuse. It makes the women look stupid but the men don’t look that bad. But we know these things have happened, otherwise Dr. Dre wouldn’t have anything to half-heartedly apologize for, so we know they were left out, supposedly because the script was too long anyway. But if you think of all those little scenes in the movie that seem totally random or repetitive, this explanation becomes really, really lame. There are two short moments where Snoop Dogg says: “Hey, let me just lay down some freestyle raps here.” There are so many “cameos” and name-droppings of songs, which feels really crammed sometimes. There are many, many concert scenes, pool party scenes, studio scenes. The movie is too long as it is and while I will defend it as a good movie, no one could argue that there aren’t scenes in it you could easily take out and instead do some justice to the women who were excluded. It is a shame that the makers (and probably Dre and Cube themselves) thought they had to make themselves look better. Did they really think no one would talk about their ignorance?