A rap group as powerful and influential as N.W.A. deserves a film just as bold and exciting. Biopic Straight Outta Compton does them proud.
Director F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton tracks the formation of rap group N.W.A. and how its members revolutionized the music industry through gangsta rap. Primarily focused on three members of the group – Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) - the film follows how each man grew and changed through both success and tragedy and what their music meant both for themselves and society.
Portraying a group as incendiary as N.W.A. can be a difficult task for biographic filmmaking. Clean up the image of the band and its members too much and you ignore the truths about each rapper and the world they were bringing to the attention of the mainstream. Glorify the crime and violence that surrounded them and you send a mixed message about what ghettos and gangs do to the people involved. But Straight Outta Compton manages to show many different sides to what gangsta rap was about during its rise in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as we not only see N.W.A.’s members find success through giving a voice to their struggles, but also the serious issues that the white and privileged didn’t think about at the time. Or now.
Most crucially, Straight Outta Compton calls attention to vital issues in a similar way to the actual music of N.W.A. Viewers are given a look into how police brutality and racism led to desperate situations for African American communities. The anger and freedom expressed through rap shoved these issues in the faces of everyone everywhere, which many simply could not understand. Rather than try and understand the real world situations that led to N.W.A.’s songs, people protested, journalists questioned, and the police tried to shut them up. But N.W.A. did not back down. On the flip side, Straight Outta Compton also shows the violence and anger that permeated the music industry surrounding N.W.A. through the gang ties of its members and other rappers in the industry. By bringing affiliations with them, the death and aggression that they were rapping about followed them into the studios.