F. Gary Gray made a hit film but squandered an opportunity to make a great film; one that didn’t merely sensationalize the story of Gangsta Rap cultural emergence but also examined its impact on Black America and the global society at large. Dre and Cube protect their own legacy with a lace curtain glossed-over fairy tale laden with binge drinking, drug abuse and soft-core porn packaged for preteens and obscenely if not brilliantly positioned as an important film about free speech. The film does not hold Gangsta Rap in any way accountable for the holocaust of ignorance and violence that plagues Black America, the thousands of gang-related deaths each year celebrated, encouraged and inspired by the genre of music the film’s protagonists created.
Both glorify ignorance. Both teach young people that
underachievement is not only okay but is a legitimate lifestyle
choice. Both make excuses for laziness and make a virtue of
cowardice. It takes courage to not follow the crowd, to design your
own values, your own culture. But far too many of other mothers park
their babies in front of TV’s with this garbage playing on
it—cussing, violence, and misogyny blaring at all hours of the day
and night. Children imitate their atmosphere, be it Bart Simpson or
Lil’ Wayne. And this bullshit just continues.
The odds of a kid living in the ‘hood rising from poverty to become Hip-Hop’s first black billionaire are simply astounding. It is an American dream, yes, but a wholly unrealistic one. This film also efficiently sidesteps the more troubling issue that these men rose from poverty by exploiting blacks and minorities. To this day, they seem to have absolutely no conscience whatsoever about their art being the soundtrack for unprecedented waves of violence, rape, drug abuse and alcoholism that plagues Black America. Which is not to specifically blame them for what they claim to simply be reporting, but to fault them for getting rich off of the suffering of their own people. Theirs is the worst kind of lie, Black America celebrating men without conscience grown rich off of the dead souls of urban youth.
Straight Outta Compton is a great movie that demeans its own greatness by its lack of truthfulness and discipline. Nobody is all good, nobody is all bad. To claim differently is to lie. Lying in a film makes the film propaganda, and SOC is, if nothing else, a propaganda film. It lacks balance or fairness of any kind. As such, it lies to its young and impressionable audience; telling perhaps the most capricious nonsense fairy tale I’ve ever heard while presenting fantasy as documentary truth.
The boys-to-men story of N.W.A. presents its young stars in such a relentless and undiminished positive light that it has credibility only with the kids (literal and thirtysomethings still behaving like children) and the Visigoth hordes of non-thinkers, both black and white, among us. Only the Homer Simpsons of the world could take this film seriously and accept the film’s preposterous supposition that there was not even one selfish or dishonorable character among the five young stars who started the “gangsta” rap genre.
Even more troubling: the film does not hold Gangsta Rap in any way accountable for the holocaust of ignorance and violence that plagues Black America, the thousands of gang-related deaths each year celebrated, encouraged and inspired by the genre of music the film’s protagonists created. Worse, Gangsta Rap exploits Black America in the sense that the genre generates most of its income not from us but from white suburban youth who either enjoy watching the monkeys dance or who desire to emulate our “bad boy” culture.
There is not even a single credible voice in SOC willing to take responsibility for or even momentarily weigh the consequences of their artistic choices. There are caricatures of conservatives—mostly white but some black—behaving irrationally, but the film’s grievous sin is Director F. Gary Gray—for whom I used to have a great deal of respect—eschewing balance for sensationalism, riling up young audiences across America with his high-energy propaganda film.
I pause to clarify: had Gray had even a single character like Clarence Williams III’s melodramatic (and somewhat unhinged) police detective or even Laurence Fishburne’s conflicted undercover LAPD officer Russell Stevens Jr.—both from Bill Duke’s 1992 masterpiece Deep Cover, an immeasurably superior exploration of similar subject matter, which, ironically, launched the careers of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight—I’d probably warn you about all of the drug use and porn and be done with it.
SOC is electrifying movie-making wizardry that wows you so much you almost forget how bad a film it is, and how destructive it is to our young people and, by extension, poisonous to black culture. I’m not talking so much about all the cussing and the deeply disturbing exploitation of very young black women—both presented as routine and normal, with not even a single character, not a single member of the band, finding any of it objectionable or even questioning, “Should we be doing this…?” —but the ridiculous caricature of real life the film presents, and how gullible so many people today (of all ethnicities) are.
The film contains not even a single character who stops to point out the film’s young protagonist are hatefully exploiting young women, and God is totally absent (other than a pair of mute, token Fruit of Islam bodyguards) from this film. Had Gray injected even 5% of a rational, credible opposing view; even one character who was perhaps a father of one of those exploited girls or, heaven forbid, a minister, I’d be better prepared to evaluate the film on its merits. Instead, any view other than Eff Tha Police is presented as reactionary and extreme.
F. Gary Gray made a hit film but squandered an opportunity to make an actual good film, one that didn’t merely sensationalize the story of the Gangsta Rap culture’s emergence but also examined its impact on Black America and the global society at large. Questions of ethics and the changing nature of America’s morals are openly mocked, presented in flat caricature rather than drilled into as John Singleton surgically achieved with his far superior Boyz In The Hood. Compton isn’t brave enough to do that, giving us instead this cartoon of “Gangsta” parading as social justice; a free speech or cultural phenomena elevating these young men—whose unapologetic goal was to get rich, not lead a social movement—to the role of sainthood. These guys were not, are not, saints. They are artists, okay, poets if you must. But Gray tries to convince us they’re Rosa Parks.