by Sam Robinson
Rated MA15+. Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti. Directed by F. Gary Gray.
It turns out that Compton, Los Angeles, wasn’t the safest place to live in the late 80s and early 90s. The depiction of the city in the new film Straight Outta Compton is dark, dangerous, and a place of terrible racism. But this film isn’t about the city, but rather the massive gangsta hip-hop group that emerged from those streets: N.W.A.
Profiling the group from formation to recording their massive breakthrough album – Straight Outta Compton – to feuding, and the death of member Eazy-E – there’s a lot to pack into one film. I’m thankful that the film’s producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (who, in case you weren’t aware, are members of N.W.A.) chose not to split this tale into a saga of films, but rather chose to cover eight or so years of history in a lengthy, two-and-a-half hour episode.
If you don’t know much about N.W.A. before seeing Straight Outta Compton, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Walk in and be taken on the journey. But if you do know the story, you may be surprised at the way it is told here. N.W.A. are in no way painted as heroes, but it has been argued that this film has been slightly sanitised. Plot points such as drug dealing, and Dr. Dre’s alleged violence against women have been brushed over or omitted completely. Considering fighting against censorship is such a strong plot point in the film (the FBI tried to stop the group from performing their song F*** the Police on tour), it’s ironic that these things are missing. There’s also unhelpful jumps in the story: we never learn exactly how N.W.A. began as a group, or how their early singles got from a studio onto the radio airwaves.
Issues aside, performances from the cast are excellent. The script keeps you gripped through the lengthy runtime, and however accurate the story is – it’s quite challenging. Most confronting is the portrayal of police, and the way they abused African-Americans in Compton, and across America in the early 90s. In one scene, the group leave a recording studio and get pushed to the ground for simply standing in the street. It’s terribly unjust, and there’s no doubt that parallels are being drawn to recent events such as Ferguson. It makes you as a viewer wonder if things have at all improved in twenty years?
I recently spoke with Reach Records rapper KB and asked him about his thoughts on how the church should respond to racism like this:
“I want to encourage the church to be very active. If we believe what Jesus said about ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, we should be trying to as best we can make the earth that we live in more heavenly by our presence, by our actions, how we serve, what we care about, what we fight for. If the image of God is being devalued in a people group, we should find that as a priority and a great offense to the kingdom of God. That is the climate that we live in in America. Unfortunately the civil rights movement was not three-hundred years ago, it was fifty years ago. Fifty, sixty years ago. People who are alive to this day were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as other people in society. That marginalisation is not a distant past. It’s very recent.”
Our fallen world is full of injustice. As followers of Christ, we are called to respond in love, and defend the marginalised. And it’s easy to look at places like Compton and turn a blind eye. But our Lord Jesus grew up in the ghetto. John 1:45-46:
‘Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.’
Is it possible for anything good to emerge from the ghetto of Nazareth? Yes. The Lord Jesus did. Is it possible for anything good to come outta Compton? Certainly – some revolutionary hip-hop did. I’m not calling N.W.A. holy, but I think we can be challenged about the way we think about people in certain areas – and be reminded that all places, all nations, need to hear about Jesus. He has a heart for all – no matter what their race or hometown.
Straight Outta Compton is an enjoyable film with a very strong soundtrack, and a opens a window into the corruption of this fallen world, particularly in wealth and power, and racist hate. But be advised there is so much swearing here, and some nudity. I’m giving Straight Outta Compton four stars.
Straight Outta Compton is in cinemas now.