STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON – A Review
By Miriam, First of May Anarchist Alliance Detroit Collective
I was drawn to the film, Straight Outta Compton because this is where I’m from: Compton, California, where I lived from 1954 through 1967, when I graduated Compton Senior High. My family were Communists and so were active in a variety of community organizations – the Compton Council on Human Relations, the NAACP, my mother’s union. As a result I was active, too, in picketing Woolworth’s as part of the northern civil rights movement and joining union picket lines. As a family we attended various CP programs, hootenannies, bazaars, etc. and watched television news reports of the southern civil rights movement, the police and dog attacks and so forth. I was aware of Black/white dynamics at an early age and I was especially aware of the police and how they treated my friends, differently from me.
In Hieronymous’ review of this film on libcom.org he discusses the economic situation of Compton and Long Beach, the loss of work after the downsizing of the aircraft industry, the increased militarization of the police and the increase of Mexican immigrants into the community.
Straight Outta Compton portrays a realistic view of the police from a young Black man’s point of view – hostile, brutal, a very clear enemy. None of the “we are your friends” rhetoric promoted by school-law enforcement programs or by the mainstream media. The opening scenes of a police battering ram tearing apart the front of a home has shock value, but I don’t forget that this is the real.
The main criticism of the film has come from the women’s community who rightfully protest the erasure of the violence done to women by members of NWA. The film is promoted as a documentary, and because of this, the treatment meted out to Dee Barnes and other women in Andre Young’s (Dr. Dre) life should have been shown, in all its ugliness.
This aspect of the culture (male rap) is very anti woman – women are b’s and h’s, useful for p and for fetching and carrying drinks, to be ordered around. This over the top sexist behavior is not limited to male rappers, nor is it limited to Black or Latin communities. To greater or lesser degrees it exists wherever power is exalted, and power over people (men over women) is either celebrated or accepted as normal behavior.
Another criticism of the film is its treatment of the 3 Jewish men who represent the record industry. Because they are the only white people in the film (except for police, judges and the people stomping on NWA’s cds in a demonstration organized by Tipper Gore) their Jewishness stands out. One manager is ready to fight after hearing an anti-Semitic remark: “Did you hear that?! I’m going to call my friends in the JDL [Jewish Defense League]!!” He doesn’t get nearly as emotional or disgusted even when he witnesses the police humiliation of NWA outside his studio.
The true fact is that while not all recording industry personnel are Jewish, many are. Historically, it has been the Jewish promoter approaching the Black musician to be the in-between – the person promising big money to the artists and promising to represent them to the rest of the industry. This relationship of middleman is loaded with opportunities for fraud and that is what happens in this movie, too.
The young rappers wanting to believe they are That Good to get a record deal, the suspicions of the “white man,” the 3-inch thick contracts they don’t read, the promotion of parties, drugs, drink and women all conspire to keep NWA unaware of exactly how much money they made and how much is taken from them. “It’s business,” they’re told, “this is the way it is.”
I especially appreciated the unmasking of police violence and how this experience affected the Los Angeles rebellion after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted. One striking scene shows a red bandanna knotted to a blue bandanna as both advanced on the police. This signifies the Crips-Bloods truce that took place during the rebellion.
The call-in comments to the local radio station here in Detroit were all along the lines of “it is so good to see us on the screen” and “they are finally showing our story.”
Reality rap is called Gansta Rap by promoters; it is bought by youth Black and white; it is a focus of hostility directed at young Black people; its misogyny and over the top swearing keeps many parents from letting their children listen to it. It remains one of the few places Black youth feel they can speak their truth in language that is familiar. It is here that they touch the hearts and minds of other youth – worldwide, of all cultures and backgrounds – facing similar oppression.