Straight Outta Compton has reached box office success this month. Already having earned $56.1 million, the film sits with a certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%, Straight Outta Compton elates its viewers with an in depth look at race and the emergence of gangsta rap in the late 1980s. Although the movie left me feeling theatrically fulfilled with its narrative of overcoming challenges, what it means to be family, and how to gain success, I couldn’t rid my mind of the nasty irritation that there was something off about the treatment of women. Of course there was something off about the treatment of women, but more specifically, I couldn’t rid my mind of whether or not it mattered in this particular film.
In support of the film, director F. Gary Gray’s approach towards women gives a helpful background to why hip hop music videos include over-sexualized images of woman in little to no clothing, dancing around pools, or dangling off the artist. It is clear in the film that this was N.W.A.’s lifestyle with women, after their quick rise to fame. A part of me appreciated this, because although some aspects of the film were fictionalized, it created a context for why so many music videos include so much ass.
However, this portrayal of women is not quite justified when the film only shows the lyrics of N.W.A.’s music that discussed politics, race, social justice, and culture. Lyrics degrading, misogynistic songs like the ones below were left out:
So we started lookin for the bitches with the big butts
Like her, but she keep cryin
“I got a boyfriend” Bitch stop lyin
Dumb-ass hooker ain’t nuttin but a dyke
“Gangsta Gangsta” N.W.A.
I find a good piece o’pussy, I go up in it
So if you’re at a show in the front-row
I’m a call you a bitch or dirty-ass ho
You’ll probably get mad like a bitch is supposed to
But that show me, slut, you’re composed to
“Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A.
Because the film focuses on Compton and the movement that N.W.A. created with empowering songs like “Fuck tha Police” there isn’t much room, or enough time to include the complexity of N.W.A. and hip hop in the 80s and 90s that contributed to massive amounts of misogyny and sexualization of women. To an extent its understandable because a movie can only explain so much. However, by not including the range of topics within their music, the film glorifies these artists as good guys who musically, and lyrically opened the discussion of racism and police brutality.
To be fair, this discussion is a positive one as the film speaks towards race in the late 80s but also strongly correlates racism and police brutality today. It proves that racism has not just risen within the last few years, but has been a continuous and ongoing issue in American culture that has never been resolved. For example, the scene where the members of N.W.A. are outside of their recording studio and police roll up, throwing them to the ground, and searching them for drugs, assuming that race equates narcotics, was filmed during the time of the Ferguson riots. The cast of crew of Straight Outta Compton understood the power that this film could have in creating a discussion of race and police today. They understood the platform they used for this discussion, film, would reach audiences that may have been turning a blind eye towards these current issues. However, is this enough? Particularly when films like Dope and Selma have come out within the last year. Should the movie have extended itself to exclude or also discuss the treatment of women during this time period?
Particularly referring to the scene where the members of N.W.A. are having sex, getting blow jobs, and making out with topless women in a hotel room. Was this scene necessary to the overarching story Straight Outta Compton was trying to tell? After Ice Cube supported the treatment of women in the film, and N.W.A.’s lyrics by saying, “If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us. If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us. If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defense of these despicable females.” A quote that’s stirred up a disturbance because the movie is good, and the characters are loveable, so how can you enjoy something that both ignores and defends the issue of women in the film?
Straight Outta Compton forces viewers to ask themselves whether or not a movie can fully tackle a variety of cultural issues. Does the fact that the film speaks towards race in America today trump its treatment of women even when that treatment was their reality? Or because the film glorified these artists, left out sexist lyrics, and ignored issues like Dr. Dre’s assault of women, one of which happened during the time frame of the film, does that make the film less of a movie?