Friday, August 14, 2015

Straight Outta Compton [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

BET coverage
Ebony coverage coverage articles

Straight Outta Compton [2015] (directed by F. Gary Gray, screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff) is a biopic about the late-1980s early-1990s Los Angeles-based "gangsta rap" group N.V.A.

Perhaps the most important thing that I can say about both their story and the film is that despite a very long list of (legitimate) complaints about the content of their songs and then their often violent / often misogynist off-stage behavior, the group did OFTEN tell the truth, certainly the truth as viewed from their perspective.

And I think I can say that because I LIVED IN LOS ANGELES during those same years, studying for a PhD (in Chemistry) at the University of Southern California, at the northern edge of South Central L.A.  I knew very well the buzzing of police helicopters over my head at night, pretty much _every night_.  And I watched a black man being spread-eagled / arrested at night in front of my student room for rent where I was living.

Later, after I finished my PhD, I still lived in the area during the L.A. Riots following the trial of the LAPD officers in the Rodney King arrest.  I will never forget the smell of the city burning on the first night of the rioting.  And I spent the second night at a priest friend's out in the suburbs near where I was working because I could not get home to the apartment where I still lived at the time (on the east side of Hollywood) because the area was still cordoned off by police who were trying to restore order.  I spent that evening with my priest friend and his Hispanic gang-intervention group standing on a street corner by a shopping center a few suburbs away, chanting to very agitated passerbys essentially "Give Peace a Chance" and I've never forgotten my impression of that angry night as: "So this is how the Apocalypse would look like" as it seemed like there was a near total (if thankfully temporary) unraveling of social order.

While I did not know Compton as well as I knew South Central L.A., I would have to say that comparisons to the notorious Soweto Township in South Africa would _not_ be entirely off-base.  As such, I totally get the sharp, spare-me-the-B.S.(!) language / anger of N.V.A.'s songs and the current film.

Now a fair number of non-blacks who've never lived in an area like Compton / South Central L.A. will simply not understand or _not get past_ the anger expressed in the N.V.A.'s songs and videos (Hence a fair question could be asked: 'Okay, you're absolutely right, but ... if you turn a lot of people off who's going to really listen to you?' But a fair response would probably be: 'Well a lot of those people who don't like us weren't going to listen to us anyway...").  A fair number of observers will also discount / dismiss N.V.A. (and other rappers like them) for their attitude / descriptions AND OFTEN ENOUGH (DOCUMENTED) BEHAVIOR toward WOMEN.  I also _completely_ understand the AFRICAN AMERICAN PARENTS precisely living in places like Compton / South Central L.A. who would be saying: "WE GET IT.  WE SEE IT.  BUT WE _DON'T_ WANT OUR KIDS LIVING LIKE YOU -- with guns, drugs and whores (or living as drug dealers / whores)."

So this is a film that is edgy about a rap group whose music was and remains _very disturbing_.   Parents, this film certainly deserves its R-rating.  But it's NOT a film / story to dismiss.

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