Movie Review -Straight Outta Compton - A Reality Check

 

 

Records were set this weekend as the Universal movie, Straight Outta Compton, grossed over $55 million. 

 

Set in the 90's, at the beginning of Rap music's rise to public awareness, it portrays the raw birth, growth and final demise of N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes.) In Compton, a place that wasn't even on the map for many years, six teen boys - Eric "Easy -E" Wright, Ice Cube, Andre Young "Dre aka Dr. Dre", DJ Yella, MC Ren, and  Arabian Prince - struggled with gang violence, racial profiling, the police, and drug hustling as they tried to find their own voice as they demanded equality.   And with the help of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), find their voice they did. 

 

Directed by F. Gary Grey, the film stars Neil Brown, Jr. (D J Yella),  Aldis Hodge (M C Ren), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Easy E), and O'Shea Jackson,Jr (Ice Cube)  and R. Marcos Taylor (Suge Knight), the others in the cast included Marion Yates, Jr., Corey Reynolds, Alexandra Shipp, Angela Elayne Gibbs, Bruce Beatty, Lisa Renee Pitts, Keith Stanfield, Elena Goode, Keith Powers,  Mark Sherman, Camryn Howard,  Cleavon McClendon, Rogelio Douglas, Jr, Steve Turner, Tyron  Woodley, LaDell Preston, Jordon Can, J. Kristopher, Stephanie Campbell, Marcc Rose, and Brandon LaFourche.

Wanting to identify and show they were proud of their city, the boys of NWA named their 1988 debut studio album "Straight Otta Compton."  The film takes the name from the music, which quickly rose to the top of the charts as fans began to identify with the obstacles and harassment faced by the boys and others in the ghetto communities around the country, which doesn't seem to have changed much over the years. 

 

The film, however, took over eleven years to see the light of day. 

 

One of the unspoken heroes of the story is executive producer Bill Straus.    He saw a diamond in the rough and stayed with it.

 

Bill Straus, Executive Producer of Straight Otta Compton

Then, a junior development executive at New Line Cinema, Bill's colleagues knew of his interest in Hip Hop music after the production of Boyz N The Hood. When he was introduced to the unknown writers S Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus who had a "fascinating" script, Bill saw the potential immediately.  "I envisioned the accolades and red carpet.  I knew instinctively that it was going to be a hit.  I also knew it would be an uphill battle.  We needed the rights to the music…and that was going to be a long haul."

 

Joining with partner David Engel, they began the arduous journey. 

 

Bill's stubborn persistence, along with the work of the writers who continued to network in the community while interviewing associates and friends of the group, eventually led him to Tomica Woods-Wright, Easy's widow.  At first, Tomica would not talk to anyone about a movie idea.  She built a fortress around herself and had already rejected some of the major industry players.  

 

Finally, Bill found a friend of hers who eventually gave her the script.  It showed Easy in a better light than previous stories had done.  She warmed to the idea and reluctantly agreed to a meeting.  However, once talking with Bill and the other executives, she embraced the idea.  She wanted the story of her late husband to be accurate.  That was 2006.    The New Line executive, who also had a history in the music business, agreed to buy the script.   Michele Weiss and Luke Ryan were two of the New Line execs who championed the film.

As with most Hollywood deals, more established writers-- Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff--were brought in to polish the script with story credit to the original writers -Alan Wenkus and S. Leigh Savidge- along with Andrea Berloff

When New Line merged into Warner Brothers, the new executives did not see the value of the film and Universal Pictures had been waiting in the wings.

 

Since Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were so prominent in the film, they came on as producers along with Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Tomica Woods-Wright and the director, F. Gary Gray.   Besides Bill Strauss, other executive producers were Will Packer, Adam Merims, David Engel, Legendary's Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni.  Music was by Joseph Trapanese with cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Billy Fox edited it.  Production companies involved were Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, and Broken Chair Flickz.

 

The shepherding of the film through the complicated process is a story of persistence, faith and determination as well as having the combination of the right personalities. 

 

Bill Strauss now works on his own as a sales agent and a producer of select passion projects at Bridge Independent Productions.    He is currently working on a break dancing story His parting words to new filmmakers and producers are "If you have good material, you'll find the right people who will understand."

 

The film gives you a great sense of what life was like in South Central, Los Angeles and will, no doubt, win numerous awards.  It's unfortunate that much of the racism and stereotyping has not changed despite the passage of time.  Maybe Straight Otta Compton will make an impact on some people. 

 

 

 

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