In this argument I want to assess wether or not the movie Straight Out of Compton (SOC) helped the representation of black youth in America. When discussing gangsta rap’s commentary on racial politics there are two main arguments. The first being that the violence and demeaning of societal morals in the lyrics furthers the monstorization of African American men. On the other hand, it is a very effective and popular way of broadcasting the message of discrimination that is felt. In my opinion the movie was able to support the second argument.
While the album SOC undeniably perpetuates the stereotype of the dangerous black male I believe that the movie was able to humanize the stereotype. As you watch the story of these young men whom you know are violent criminals the viewer becomes connected to them. While they are a perfect representation of what America is supposed to hate you can’t help but love these young men, even Easy E a known drug dealer. You get to experience the discrimination first hand in this movie and it allows the audiences who have never seen this before to understand the issue of police brutality. For viewers who had little contact with this type of brutality it is eye opening. Viewers sympathize with these violent young men in a way the media has never allowed before and this is how the SOC was able to positively comment on black youths.
The movies highlights the political and racial facets of crime. Law is not necessarily moral clear but it is black and white. Here I want to use McCann’s explanation,
“crime is political. By this, I do not mean simply that politics inform public policies related to crime and punishment… I am arguing that crime is in itself an act of political agency. As historian Peter Linebaugh states plainly in his study of political economy and crime in eighteenth century England, “In short, people became so poor that they stole to live, and their misappropriating led to manifold innovations in civil society.” If political struggle is at its very core about survival (and I believe it to be), then crime is no doubt political. Although the practices of a criminal will not be as politically conscious or beneficial as those of a street protestoror community organizer, they nonetheless partake in the social antagonisms that giveform and shape to political and rhetorical subjectivity. While crime from a punitive standpoint enables myriad discourses of racial, gender, and class scapegoating, it similarly enables alternative discourses of criminal behavior from the perspective of, or on behalf of, the incarcerated and their communities.” (McCann 14-15).
In essence, crime is subjective and determined by the politics of our country. SOC shows that the subject of our nation is to constantly mark black men as criminals.
This movie also released at a critical political moment with the popularity of movement like Black Lives Matter and was able to show the younger generations the parallel issues from previous generations. If kids today weren’t versed in the lyrics of NWA before they are now and NWA is a huge icon in pop culture right now. (Just look at all the “straight out of____” T-shirt’s ). This recycling of political music and pop culture fueled activism today.
Some important scenes from the movie I want to include,
The first scene included is one of the many examples in SOC of police brutality and profiling but I believe this one makes this most powerful statement because of the powerful dialogue of the black police officer. The scene ends with him saying “listen to your master” which is a stunning slave comment coming from a black man. The scene embodies the Fuck the Police lyric “black police showin out for the white cop”. The second scene I have included shows a perfect encapsulation of the two arguments for rap as a representation of black youth I previously spoke about.
On the subject of the music I think that NWA sells authenticity. McCann speaks a lot about this idea that in order for rap musicians to be successful they have to be gangster and this means their music gets progressively more violent as validation. While their music is full of political commentary because crime is political I believe the majority of NWA’s songs center around violence and degradation of society, women, and homosexuals.
The political music from decades ago is much mellower in comparison to NWA. This is due to many reasons. Rap music didn’t have the traction in the 60’s and 70’s, and by the 80’s the civil rights movement was so long ago I think music became more frustrated. Musical artists grew impatient with the lack of change where as artist in the 60’s had just seen some success and sang with less anger.
The power of this music is due to its popularity. People far and wide listen to these albums with little personal connection to the issues. I think this is due to the clean and unique musical style of Dr. Dre and the taboo subject of the music. By now we know that people in American society love to watch a good societal deviation.
Finally, this may be outside the lenses of race and politics in this weeks discussion but I want to bring up HIV. When Eric is diagnosed with HIV his response is, “but I ain’t no faggot.” I think showing the death and diagnosis of Eric gave viewers another disdained group to sympathize. By this time you’re invested in they character and rather than feel that media perpetuated distaste for and HIV patient, you just feel bad for Eric. I appreciated the tone of this subplot and thought it was a positive contribution to the dialogue on HIV today. This commentary in the 80’s brought attention to a strongly misunderstood issue.