My favorite scene in the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, is when the group is on stage in Detroit and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr) looks out on the crowd, turns to Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and then belts out “Fuck Tha Police.” This incident occurred after the Detroit P.D. demanded that the group not play the song in their city. The group’s decision to defy the police led to a riot and the arrest of the artists and raised a lot of questions about censorship.
There are so many good things that I could say about the film, specifically the way it captures the explosion of “gangsta” rap, the implosion of N.W.A., the rise of Death Row Records, but mostly, I favor the film because of how much it resonates with headlines today, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement. Looming throughout the film is tension between police and black communities, ultimately leading to the Rodney King riots. In one early scene, as the artists step outside of a recording studio, they’re shoved to the ground by LAPD because they’re assumed to be gang-bangers.
There are many criticisms that can be made against “gangsta” rap, namely its treatment of women, but as Ice Cube notes several times throughout the film, the music served as a reflection of their reality, including the tensions with police. In that regard, it can also be said that N.W.A.’s bold decision to play “Fuck Tha Police” in Detroit was an act of civil disobedience.
That particular reminded me of young Black Lives Matters activists who recently shut down rallies by Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush, and have since protested at other campaign scenes. When they shut down a Sanders rally in Seattle, several of my progressive friends questioned their motives, since Sanders is generally open-minded and supportive of civil rights causes. I noted that it doesn’t matter who the candidate is, they should keep employing such acts of civil disobedience. For one, it forces the cnadidates and their supporters to really listen. After shutting down the Sanders rally, for instance, he broadened his platform to include matters of policing in minority communities. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton recently met with BLM activists. These acts of civil disobedience create a national dialogue and force people to pay attention. Any change comes from the grassroots.
There really couldn’t be a more appropriate time for a biopic on N.W.A. produced by Ice Cub and Dr. Dre. Already, it’s continued the conversation that the group started in the late 80s and the BLM activists rekindled, post-Trayvon and post-Ferguson.