Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Straight Outta . . .

So, I took my last free moments before classes start to go to the movies. I saw Straight Outta Compton. There's so much to say about it. And I'm not even a hip hop head (to the great chagrin of some of my friends!) or from "the ghetto".  The commentary about institutionalized racism, poverty, and the value of free speech was really compelling. Also insightful was the underlining idea that these boys/men had skills that they crafted. Even though Eazy E wasn't actually a rapper to begin with, he was a master at marketing, whether it be drugs or music. And, as The Diva pointed out, Ice Cube is, fundamentally, a writer.

What's disappointing for me, though, is that there is absolutely no reflection or critique of the misogyny at the center of the music or their actual lives. The film seemed to me to be clarifying the reality of the lyrics. The violence they were rapping about was clear in their lives, and they were both the perpetrators and the victims of it. We hear the police use the same language that shows up in the group's music. But if the guns, death, and systematic oppression were worth clarifying, why wasn't there light shone on the female presence?

First, there is the namelessness of the many and varied women scattered around the film. They are scantily clad or undressed entirely ("nekkid" as Lewis Grizzard would say--"naked and up to something"). They are props, just like the dogs that showed up repeatedly. However, when there was a dogfighting scene, I thought, some people are going to be mad about that--but there won't be many who are mad that the women are recipients of violence, too; I mean, when the police drive a bulldozer or whatever that huge machine was through the door of the house, they blow a person across the room.  No one in the house is concerned, and I'm going to assume that law enforcement wasn't interested in her life either. So these women might as well be faceless, since they are interchangeable and strictly one dimensional. They are vaginas, mouths, anuses. It's the definition of thingafication. The film shows that misogyny, but the only focused attention it gets is 1) the scene when the manager tells Eazy to be more careful about sleeping around and  making too many babies, a nod to the his ultimate end; 2) the "bye Felicia" scene that is played for comedy. There's nothing that suggests that the objectification of women is problematic. We know that the cultural critique was happening, though, just like the criticism was happening about "F--- the Police" but it gets ignored in the film.

Secondly, amid the constant conversation about the crises with young black men and the layered jeopardy they face, black females keep getting brushed aside: "Wait a minute, we're dealing with something important here"--just like white feminists during first wave feminism. Yes, the police violence, community violence, systematic academic failures, and profiling of every sort is directed toward black males. But the film inadvertently highlights the degree to which black girls and women are also at risk in basically the same ways (and not for nothing, but compare black girls in school to white girls, and they are also in crisis academically and in terms of disciplinary profiling). They are in the same spaces as black men--in their homes, on the streets, at parties. When the shots ring out, the girls are not immune to being hit just because they are only a girlfriend or hookup. When Ice Cube is being slammed on the hood of a car, the police disrespect and threaten his mother, too. I also couldn't help but to think that when a mother's son is being beaten for no reason, it's happening to her too. Hurting my child is hurting me. I don't think that the film intends to make this point, but it was clear to me.

So, if what the film set out to do was make clear the ways in which NWA was offering political and cultural critique that was significant to it's historical moment, it does that. But it manages to do that without the self-reflection that twenty or thirty years could have brought.

I'm not a hip hop head, but this movie still has me feeling pretty gangsta.