Straight Outta Compton is the story of the rap group NWA, which launched the careers of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and the late Eazy-E. The story revolves around the group’s struggle to make their music while being manipulated by their management. As many critics have pointed out, the film avoids important and ugly parts of the story, especially the assault charges brought against Dr. Dre for physical attacks on women. But underneath the story of the group’s rise to fame, is the story of racist police violence in the U.S., a violence common to cities from Compton to Ferguson to Oakland. And in the context of today’s struggle against police brutality, the film is relevant, and definitely worth watching.
Straight Outta Compton shows the group as they start putting the reality of Compton into the lyrics of their songs. From street life to conflict with the police, the songs reflect the reality they grew up with. The 1980s saw a massive crack epidemic, when the police carried out a constant attack on poor and black communities under the slogan of the so-called “war on drugs.” The LAPD, under chief Daryl Gates, pioneered the use of the SWAT team – military style police units – in the poorest neighborhoods around Los Angeles. Police officers systematically harassed, searched, and used violence against so-called gang members, which simply meant any group of young black men they crossed paths with.
Of course, the biggest song NWA produced comes out of this reflection of reality. “F— the Police” is the angry reaction against the officers who “think they have the authority to kill a minority.” As the movie shows, this song created a huge controversy as police officials and even the FBI began to harass NWA. The song became the anthem of urban rebellion in 1992 when people all over Los Angeles rioted against the beating of Rodney King by police. It’s no surprise that this song is still heard in demonstrations against police brutality today.