By Shanna Bowie
Straight Outta Compton is in theaters and it’s doing amazing. It’s the unexpected hit of the summer. The film, focused on the coming together and rise of the hip hop group N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitude) is receiving accolades for its box office numbers in a climate where minorities are often told our stories won’t win in theaters. And while it’s important to celebrate films like this for their accomplishments, the film also has its detractors, mainly the women who the film whom the film has strategically cut from the film; the women who were domestically abused by one of the groups founders Dr. Dre. These women and their supporters have been vocal about the abuses of Dr. Dre so I won’t presume to speak over their voices. And Dr. Dre himself after pressure from these women, did apologize for his transgressions. But after seeing the film, what I was struck by was the opportunity Dr. Dre and Ice Cube had to talk about the connection between police brutality and hyper masculinity and how they let that go by in order to save face.
I love hip-hop. I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. during Biggie Smalls’ rise and tragic fall. I witnessed the Takeover and the Ether. And my mom probably taught me Rapper’s Delight in the womb. But that doesn’t mean hip-hop is what most black women would consider a safe space. Often hip hop can be a space where Black folks are working out their shit on a very public stage. What made groups like N.W.A. iconic was that they “kept it real” and told what was happening on their streets. The film does a good job in showing that in terms of how it related to over-policing in Los Angeles but sanitized the high-level of misogyny in their music. Much of that misogyny is borne out of the same place. The gangsta persona is a response to knowing you can be slammed onto the hood of a cop car on a whim. The smack my bitch façade is a response to being degraded in front of her. Where Straight Outta Compton failed black women was that in trying to hold up these men as idols, they erased how their very real shortcomings derived from the same place as their iconic music.
Too often women find that they are devalued, abused or erased in hip-hop but we still dance to the music, go up for the artists, and support this music and the men who perpetuate these ideals. We’re the women who don’t want to call the police on our abusive Black men because they’ve already spent their lives persecuted by authorities. But until we speak up about how these problems are interconnected they won’t be resolved. I know Compton was not meant to be a catch all for all of these issues but it was poised at a unique place to address them in an organic way and instead they chose to push a sanitized narrative, which is surprising for the men who once knew “nothin’ in life but to be legit”.