Updated: Oct 14, 2021
In 2015, F. Gary Gray used his directing talents to produce and bring to life the story of N.W.A, Niggaz wit Attitudes, in his film Straight Outta Compton. In this film, we follow the global outbreak in 1988 of this new style of rap referred to as Gangsta rap, which is led by this group of “arrogant” individuals. This group consists of DJ’s, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and rappers and lyricists, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy E. These five individuals were a voice and a beacon of light for individuals in the hood of Southern Los Angeles, where crime rates were rising, and police officers were no fans of black individuals that walked around with confidence. Police brutality, coupled with the attempted censorship of the rebellious culture of hip-hop, are huge issues that are discussed and exemplified throughout this movie. Due to the fact that Gray decides to use new, upcoming black actors for this film, we are able to focus on the story that is being told, and all the lessons and themes that come with it.
F. Gary Gray did a great job of implementing the video and case ruling of the Rodney King, police brutality incident that took place in 1992. Having this footage of a black man getting unnecessarily beaten by police officers, forces the movie viewers, as well as the early N.W.A fans, to hold a strong backing for the group and their stance against the police. N.W.A was one of the first big rebellious groups against government forces. With the release of their song “Fuck tha Police”, they sparked a great revolt in the streets of Southern Los Angeles and all over the U.S., giving confidence and the necessary “self-knowledge” to many individuals to stand up to police forces. This was their version of a hood anthem. Police chiefs in different cities made statements about this group, stating that they couldn’t play certain songs when they went on tour, also stating that all the recent up rise in violence is solely because of N.W.A and hip-hop culture. This just goes to show how much of an effect hip-hop culture has on the world.
Early in the film, the director gives us a scene where Ice Cube is walking home from Dre’s house, and just because he is black and happened to be passing by, he is hassled and frisked by the police just because he is black and happened to be walking there. In the process, Cube yells “we ain’t all slanging dope”, we, being the black male population in those neighborhoods. The police, seeing his hi-hop attire with the “Raider Gear”, gold chains, and pager, assume he is immediately doing something wrong and is involved with drugs. Tupac wrote about the “growing frustrations of young black men with police brutality” (Charnas, 2011, 358). In of his songs he says, “Hands up, throw me against a wall, didn’t do a thing at all” (Tupac). Police brutality against black men was a major issue that grew as the hip-hop culture inundated America, and it was brilliantly shown in the film with the incident of Rodney King. Adding the fact that the policemen who were involved in the beating of Rodney King were let off easy was also intelligent. While the L.A. riots were not necessarily the right way to go about dealing with these issues in the governmental system, it does supply, for those who weren’t there, some reasoning behind those actions.
In the film we see where N.W.A is on tour and the make a stop in the Midwest, where one of the chiefs of police have made the statement forbidding them to play the song “Fuck tha Police”. This was the government’s attempt to censor and completely silence these pioneers in of the hip-hop culture on the west coast. Being that they were all about being a voice for the rundown communities and neighbors and making sure that that voice was heard, they proceeded to play the song. This caused the police to barge into the concert and shut it down, causing riots in the streets and leading to the arrest of N.W.A. This is so important because it proves to the listeners of hip-hop and those with the hip-hop mindset, that they can’t be silenced and are bound to be heard one way or another. This attempt to censor the group, proved that they were a problem, and the government was upset. There were also many people working in the media that attempted to censor gangsta rap, but those in hip-hop responded by calling “criticism of Gangsta rap ‘racist’” (Charnas, 2011, 422). N.W.A was a catalyst for change in the mindsets of those in these rundown areas that were “bullied” by the police. People galvanized by this group, began to live their lives with an increased amount of confidence, standing up to police, government officials, and anybody else trying to take advantage of them.
Watching this film a few times, it is easy to see the love of West Coast hip-hop that the director has, but, while he was aiming to tell the story of N.W.A., I feel there was an underlying theme and goal. With the early scenes of the police taking down the crack house and the gang member holding up the school bus and following with the video of the Rodney King beating, F. Gary Gray felt like he needed to facilitate the understanding of what black individuals experience and undergo, living in the hood and even in better areas. Having to make ends meet in a system that is built to keep us down, all while having to deal with the police constantly terrorizing people of color. I think he showed and slightly glorified the drug game because he knew that for a lot of individuals this was the only way they knew how to make money and get their own. For me, I completely agree with the director. He did a great job of showing this situation, and I agree that many people of color had to go to certain extremes to make ends meet, but I don’t completely agree with the way that he slightly glorified the drug game with Eazy-E. Hip-hop culture is much more than just drugs and money, and other than this small flaw, the director did a great job of representing West Coast hip-hop culture with this film. Straight Outta Compton was a top tier film that told the story of an upcoming hip-hop group whose main goal was to give their community a voice. For those that were unlucky to experience their impact first hand on the early 90s, like myself, this film is the 2nd best thing.