MMT review of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON by guest contributor Rel Dowdell

straight outta compton (photo: Universal)

The highly effective and resonant epic bio pic STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON has a lot of scenes that fans from the vintage 90s era of hip hop will smile fondly in memory of. One being a very young, precocious, and always thin Snoop Dogg walking through Dr. Dre’s posh mansion and coming up to Dre – who’s playing some catchy notes on his state-of-the-art keyboard. Snoop is instantly intrigued by the melody and asks with excited curiosity, “What’s that, Dre?” Dre smiles, because he knows the melody he is playing is going to be an instant worldwide classic. The tune? “Nothing but a G Thing.”

F. Gary Gray has done a truly masterful job at creating a film that covers some of the most important figures in hip-hop history. It is a film that African-American male filmmakers clamor all their lives to make. However, it is one that all African-American male filmmakers are not equipped to make. This film is made with the highest level of skill and attention. Many filmmakers in all races can learn from the expertise in which it is made. All should watch closely as if being in a classroom. Gray has made several successful big budget films (e.g. Law Abiding Citizen, The Italian Job, A Man Apart), and he puts all of his proficiency behind the camera here. Obviously, F. Gary Gray loved and admired the subjects in his film and wanted to make sure that he presented their story in the very best possible fashion – with its $29 million budget. It made me wonder if skilled African-American filmmakers got the chance to make films they badly wanted to make like “Ray,” “42,” “Get On Up,” or “The Hurricane,” how would they have turned out? I only wish that “Straight Outta Compton” would have had at least one African-American male writer to contribute to this epic and expertly made project. Sadly, that did not happen – for all the writers credited on the project were not of African-American descent.

The actors, many of them in their first starring role, are resplendent. They are so good that I don’t want to single any one out. Everyone plays his part with the difficult task of incorporating swagger with sensitivity. The film has some tremendously hip moments, as well as some tremendously moving ones. Jason Mitchell, who plays Easy E, unequivocally has a tremendous future ahead of him. One can only hope and pray that worthy opportunities like the one given to him in “Straight Outta Compton” present themselves to him in the future. As we know, roles of substance for African-American male actors are few and far between.

I have read other reviews by critics who feel as if more attention should have been given to members of the group, notably Dr. Dre’s, checkered and controversial past with women. I wonder now how the film could have brought attention to that issue by F. Gary Gray. I’m sure the filmmakers and producers had a notion that this would come up in the scribes of some critics. Maybe it was addressed, and then it was removed. Maybe it was in the script at one point, and maybe it was removed. Maybe it was discussed before a first draft was written, and maybe it wasn’t. The public will never know. I do feel that those types of issues need to be addressed in order to show young people what not to do in their road to achieving great and worldwide success. Plus, it would not have given critics the chance to find flaw in what is an outstanding film.

Fortunately, the iconic subjects in this film who are still living will always have the chance to address that. This film has enough meritorious aspects in it to cement the indelible legacy of NWA in not just hip-hop history, but music history, forever. The popularity that NWA had as a revolutionary and highly skilled hip-hop group in the 90s will be rekindled in full throttle by a new and diverse audience. The story and the music in “Straight Outta Compton” most assuredly make it a four-star film that will endure attention for a long time after its imminently successful run in theaters – for it truly shows the epic rise, and unfortunate fall, of a true hip-hop supergroup that showed many like me from the East Coast that West Coast rappers could make vintage hip hop of the highest level.

Thankfully, there are members of the group who are still doing well, enjoying great success, and making sure that the legacy of NWA will always be around and never ignored for too long.

In summation, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a four-star film that captures the angst and creativity of frustrated and talented African-American males from the West Coast whose success transcended anything any of the members could have possibly hoped for.

Rel DowdellRel Dowdell is an acclaimed screenwriter, director, producer, and professor – who also happens to be an avid movie lover and oral expert on Black film. His second feature film, Changing the Game, was one of 2012’s highest rated African-American dramas and is 83% fresh on the popular movie critic site Rotten Tomatoes. Changing the Game is currently airing this month on Fuse TV – click here to check local schedule listings.


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