Why “Straight Outta Compton’s” Success Could Be a Benchmark for Change (guest contributor Rel Dowdell)

Straight Outta Compton (photo: Universal)

With the NWA biopic “Straight Outta Compton” making a whopping $56 million plus this weekend at the box office and leaving every other film in the dust, many, especially industry insiders, are shocked. I, honestly, was not. The diverse lives of African-Americans have appeal to many all across the world, especially when presented with top flight studio marketing and support. In fact, one may be shocked to know how many others that are not of African-American descent can relate to the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the African-American life. Our lives often times share a universal thread. Hopefully, some of the aspects of “Straight Outta Compton” will be relatable to all. Here are a few things that I believe should be noted.

One, I hope the film enlightens America to the ongoing problems with police and how minorities are treated by them, which builds an angst and chasm that is very hard to bridge and heal. I hope that police officers can see how much damage has been done towards my generation since the Rodney King years and how it needs to be assuaged. I have a personal story to share. Years ago when I was living on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia, I was working late teaching as a professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia. I noticed on my way home that a police car was following me for a good while. I thought when I got home that the police officer was going to drive past me seeing that I had parked my car in front of my apartment building. However, the misadventure was just beginning. The police officer pulled up right beside me and started blaring his lights and siren. He got out of the car and I could see he was a Caucasian male. It was even difficult to see that since his flashlight gave chase to my face as soon as he came around the front of his car all the way up to my driver’s window. He asked me why I pulled over and parked my car. I said I lived there. He said I did not, for he knows who all the residents were on that block. I said I was a college professor. He said that I wasn’t because I don’t fit the “description” of a college professor. He insisted that I was someone of “interest.” After a long while of his hollering and berating, neighbors in the area came out to see what was going on.

In “Straight Outta Compton,” when Ice Cube, MC Ren (my personal favorite lyricist in the group), and the rest of the group were harassed by the police outside of their studio, they actually behaved pretty responsibly and complied to the requests of the officers by getting on the ground face down. I, however, became too angry to comply with any requests. I argued back with the police officer tit for tat. After all of the neighbors came out confirming to the officer that I lived there, the officer finally backed off enough to ask me for my license and registration. After taking my ID back to his car and sitting there in his car for over an hour, he came back to my car, gave me back my info, said nothing, got back in his car, and drove off. I was livid. One of the neighbors, another young African-American male, came up to me and said the same police officer harassed him as well and was glad I held my ground. In “Straight Outta Compton,” the deft hip-hop musicians of NWA used their angst and rage against the police to record one of the signature songs. Since I am not a rapper or lyricist, I did something else consequential. I knew the Philadelphia Police Commissioner whose name was Sylvester Johnson because he came to one of my film’s screenings. I called him the next day, met him in his office, told my story, called the other brother who came up to me as a witness, and got that police officer transferred somewhere else (you know I recorded the cop’s badge number). It is time for the mistreatment of law-abiding African-American males by law enforcement to cease. Racism cannot be tolerated on any level. Police serve an invaluable role in society, and they are most certainly needed. There is no need to mitigate the important stance that they have by continuously racially profiling, harassing, and even killing, African-American males for no reason. Whether you’re a hip hop artist, banker, pastor, Democrat, Republican, or educator, no one is above being harassed by the police. The West Coast has NWA’s iconic song. The East Coast has its own iconic song by another gold standard artist in KRS-ONE with “Black Cop.” It is good to see that there are those who are venting their frustrations creatively instead of otherwise. For that, America should be thankful.

Additionally, the film also shows that any group, no matter how noble its intent, can be disbanded by outside forces if unity is not the foremost standard for the group. This rule goes for any team, organization, society, or even among friends. The bond you create can be destroyed or infiltrated by a shrewd and cunning outsider if you let it happen. In the film, Suge Knight and Jerry Heller led to the untimely demise of NWA when their success was at its peak with different tactics. With you, me, or anyone else, it could be anyone who does this to you and those within your circle. The members of NWA are interchangeable with any members of your own circle. Watch the film and you will see commonalities with them and those you have associated with. Protect your friendship and trust with others with strength and prayer. Know the signs of those who want to be in your position and create confusion and chaos within your infrastructure.

In the end, I hope and pray that the success of “Straight Outta Compton” does more than just entertain on the big screen. I hope it sparks enlightenment and change on the big screen of life. I hope others, especially African-Americans in Hollywood, get behind other projects and get them made. For those with the clout, this means you. There’s room for everyone to succeed. If you help someone else make a successful project, guess what? You will benefit the most. Everyone – in every race – needs to learn to send the elevator back down to others in order to help lift others up.

Big shout out to Thomasena Farrar for allowing me to contribute my thoughts on this film as well as giving me the opportunity to see “Straight Outta Compton” weeks before its release – in a preview with the director F. Gary Gray, Ice Cube, Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Jason Mitchell.

Rel Dowdell

Rel 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. Click here to read Rel’s review of the film “Straight Outta Compton.” 

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.

Happy 2nd Anniversary MusicMoviesThoughts!

Happy Anniversary image

Guess what MMT family?  The site is two years old today!  I am so elated, for several reasons. First, I am still coming down off my birthday celebration high from last week (and yes, I saw that staff takeover post!).  Next, I remember typing out my wish list last year this time, which included increased celebrity interviews and giveaways.  Since that time, I’ve been able to do awesome movie screening giveaways, including passes to this summer’s hottest movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” And speaking of The Butler, I’ve not only interviewed director Lee Daniels, and co-stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Yaya Alafia, but a host of directors, producers, actors and singers; including history maker Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere), Academy award hopeful director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), and my favorite solo interview to date, the legendary actor/director Charles Dutton (The Obama Effect).

We’ve also given away great DVD’s and movie soundtracks to many of the 1,055 plus followers the site has amassed, and we’ve created a new Facebook page to interact with our fan base.  I am on cloud nine thinking about what has happened, and can’t write out this year’s wish list fast enough!

I want to take time again this year to thank several persons who have invested time and support of the site.  I am very thankful to Allied-THA for their continued support in partnering with the MMT site for movie screenings.  I also want to thank our new photography partner, the talented Monica Lyons, and her company Sista Pics (check out the Lee Daniels’ The Butler Philly premiere, Yaya Alafia and Yusuf Muhammad posts for examples of her greatness!).  I want to also extend a thank you to Michael Tozzi and ijazzglobal.com, LaVern Cameron, Rel Dowdell, Nakia Stokes, Mike D. and the Reelblack family, LeAnne Lindsay, and Pat Garcia for the support they’ve extended. Heads up MMT family, you will want to remember the name LaVern Cameron because her book, Ascent From Obscurity, is soon to be released and it is a powerful read.  You might also recognize the name of the editor (hint, hint) but more on that later!

Lastly, I want to say thank you to each subscriber of MMT, the Facebook page, and those who follow the blog via Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.  Because I value your opinion, I am asking each of you to take a brief minute and share your feedback, thoughts, etc. about this site on the attached contact form.  I am really interested and look forward to receiving your input to help with the wish list for this year. 🙂

Thanks again family!  Until next thought, Thomasena

Let’s talk music/movie picks for May 2012

Hello music movie lovers!  It’s been 2 1/2 weeks I know, but trust me I have some great things in the works and am hoping to share some exciting things with you in the very near future :).  But I first want to share my music/movie picks for the month of May.  Feel free to share what you’re looking forward to seeing, or may have already seen this month, in the comments section.

First up is an independent film I viewed this weekend called Changing the Game, which was shot in my hometown of Philadelphia and was co-written and directed by homegrown talent Rel Dowdell.  It’s the story of one young man’s journey from being raised by a single grandmother in a rough neighborhood, to his meteoric rise as a wall street star businessman and the dangerous players/situations he encounters as such.  The movie had a great spiritual element in the storyline, that I really enjoyed, and had a surprise twist at the end.  It stars newcomer Sean Riggs, Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, and veteran actors Tony Todd, the magnificent Irma P. Hall, and a guest appearance by Suzzanne Douglas (loved her as Jeri in the Robert Townsend 90’s sitcom The Parent ‘Hood).  It’s playing in the Philadelphia area at the AMC Cherry Hill Loews 24. To check film times in your area, go to http://www.amctheatres.com/movies/changing-the-game and you can find out more about the film at http://www.changingthegamethemovie.com/.

I have several movie screenings scheduled for the next few weeks, and will let you know my thoughts on those films on or immediately following their respective release dates.  On to the music choice!  Mary Mary’s Go Get It album was released last Tuesday, and I am so grateful for that title track! It has been my anthem for the past couple of months, as I’ve dealt with some family and work related struggles and needed an extra boost of encouragement to motivate and help me keep pressing forward.  These sisters’ voices have always been the real deal, but their evolution in the gospel genre, with respect to their sound, coupled with their ability to minister brings a welcome yin to the very traditional Philly gospel radio yang.  That being said, the album is a compilation that features several of their biggest hits, along with two new tracks, so those not familiar will get a nice introduction to the duo.  Check out more about Mary Mary or purchase the album on their website at http://www.mary-mary.com/us/home, and check out link below to the official video for Go Get It.

Those are a couple of my choices music movie lovers.  What are your thoughts?  Let me know what you’ve seen, are listening to, and what movie(s) you’re looking forward to seeing.  Until next thought family, Thomasena.

Go Get It – Mary Mary  (c) 2012 Columbia Records: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADGnIi9KrLQ&ob=av2e