The Controversy over ‘Straight Outta Compton’

The movie Straight Outta Compton was released into theaters around the world on August 14, 2015. Since then, there have been several controversies over the message it sends to people of all ages. As noted in IMDb’s movie description, the movie is about “life in the hood” for the group NWA. According to Alex Abad-Santos from Vox Explainers, the movie shows racism as an “inescapable force that haunts black men and women in America”. However, the main controversy that appears from the film is music icon, Dr. Dre’s, history of violence against women. In Alex Abad-Santos’s account, he goes into depth about the actual story of Dr. Dre and some of the women he abused and why his history is such a big deal:

For the second week in a row, Straight Outta Compton was the most-watched movie in America. It’s made an estimated $111 million since it opened August 14. To get to the $100 million mark means the N.W.A bio-drama has crossed demographics and transcended its genre — it’s not just rap aficionados watching the movie. It means that people who are unfamiliar with Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube are learning about them for the very first time. It means that people in suburban America are seeing this film. It means that people are listening to Dr. Dre’s new album. It means that Compton has defied the expectations of an industry.

Compton is a success story about a survival story. At its heart, the film is about black survival in America. It makes no attempt to explain the origins of institutionalized racism or how we arrived to the time we’re in. Instead, it treats racism as it is — an inescapable force that haunts black men and women in America. Compton’s success is as much a testament to the talent of N.W.A as it is a celebration of overcoming the struggle of life in the inner city.

But one story that Compton didn’t tell is getting almost as much attention as the film’s success. That’s the story of Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women, which the film doesn’t touch upon. The omission has sparked a new examination of his life, his songs, and his lyrics. It’s ignited broader questions about why the film omitted this horrible chunk of history.

On Friday, Dre gave an apology to the women he abused, telling the New York Times: “I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.”

Here’s why he apologized.

The actual incidents of violence against women that Straight Outta Compton left out

Compton‘s success is a bit of surprise. This summer was the year of the blockbuster — Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four, and Minions were released, and Batman v Superman was originally supposed to join the fray (it will open in March 2016 instead). Compton flew under the radar, until it raked in $60 million on its opening weekend.

The Tuesday after its premiere — August 18 — rapper and former TV host Dee Barnes wrote an essay for Gawker explaining that the movie left out Dre’s history of physically abusing women, including herself. She wrote about an incident in 1991 when Dre beat her:

Three years later — in 1991 — I would experience something similar, only this time, I was on my back, and the knee was in my chest. That knee did not belong to a police officer, but Andre Young, the producer/rapper who goes by Dr. Dre. When I saw the footage of California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew straddling and viciously punching Marlene Pinnock in broad daylight on the side of a busy freeway last year, I cringed. That must have been how it looked as Dr. Dre straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom at the Po Na Na Souk nightclub in 1991.

In court, Dre pleaded no contest to the assault, and Barnes’s civil suit was settled.

Barnes came forward and wrote the essay because her abuse wasn’t depicted in the movie. Barnes explains she didn’t think there would be a reenactment of her abuse; that might be too difficult and graphic for a film to handle delicately. Rather, she writes, she expected and wanted to see some acknowledgment of Dre’s history of violence against women.

Barnes isn’t the only woman Dre has assaulted. Michel’le (Michelle Touissant), a singer and Dre’s former fiancée, told hip-hop site VladTV that she didn’t expect to be in the movie or for it to acknowledge her abusive relationship with Dre. “If they start from where they start from, I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat up and told to sit down and shut up,” she said.

Later, Abad-Santos relates the story of Dr. Dre to the recent controversy over Bill Cosby and his potential history of abuse towards women.

Over the past few months, we’ve watched Bill Cosby’s legacy shrivel up as women spoke publicly (35 talked to New York magazine) about how he had sexually assaulted them. The downside: These assaults happened more than 30 years ago.

Having not seen the movie myself, I ultimately can’t give a whole lot of input on the situation. However, I do find it incredibly important to look at the positive and negative affects of it. Yes, I agree with the fact that Dr. Dre’s history is unacceptable and there is no excuse for it, however, I think we need to look at the bigger picture. For instance, going forward, how can we prevent situations like this from happening? I noticed that at my local movie theater there were cops that swarmed the building due to the possible outbreak of negative responses to the movie. I think that was an incredibly important move by the CRPD (Cedar Rapids Police Department) because with all of the movie theater shootings that have happened recently, we have to be extra careful in these instances. However, I think the releasing of the movie sent a powerful message to all viewers and will hopefully turn our world around, positively.


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