A lot has already been said about the way Straight Outta Compton both glorifies violence and hypes up N.W.A., and that’s probably all true, a symptom of a biopic both made too soon and with the involvement of some of its subjects. What hasn’t been talked about—enough, at least—is how the film dramatically underplays N.W.A.’s problematic relationship with misogyny and sexism.
Thankfully, Gawker set out to resolve that a little, getting one-time Dr. Dre punching bag and all-time journalist Dee Barnes to watch and review the film for a piece smartly titled “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me And The Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up.” The result is a deeply personal piece about Barnes’ relationship to both the early ‘90s hip-hop scene and to the music industry today. Whether you’re familiar with her story going into the piece or not, Barnes’ observations are incredibly poignant and powerful. Take, for instance, her thoughts on the realities of both the film and of what really happened:
Dre, who executive produced the movie along with his former groupmate Ice Cube, should have owned up to the time he punched his labelmate Tairrie B twice at a Grammys party in 1990. He should have owned up to the black eyes and scars he gave to his collaborator Michel’le. And he should have owned up to what he did to me. That’s reality. That’s reality rap. In his lyrics, Dre made hyperbolic claims about all these heinous things he did to women. But then he went out and actually violated women. Straight Outta Compton would have you believe that he didn’t really do that. It doesn’t add up. It’s like Ice Cube saying, “I’m not calling all women bitches,” which is a position he maintains even today at age 46. If you listen to the lyrics of “A Bitch Iz a Bitch,” Cube says, “Now the title bitch don’t apply to all women / But all women have a little bitch in ‘em.” So which is it? You can’t have it both ways. That’s what they’re trying to do with Straight Outta Compton: They’re trying to stay hard, and look like good guys.
She also weighs in on the way the group rapped about women versus the way it treated woman like her:
I wasn’t in the studio to hear them record their disgusting, misogynistic views on women in songs like “A Bitch Iz a Bitch,” “Findum, Fuckum & Flee,” “One Less Bitch,” and perhaps most offensively, “She Swallowed It.” (On that track, MC Ren brags about violating at 14-year-old girl: “Oh shit it’s the preacher’s daughter! / And she’s only 14 and a ho / But the bitch sucks dick like a specialized pro.”) I heard the material like everybody else, when I was listening to the albums, and I was shocked. Maybe that was their point. Maybe they said a lot of that stuff for the shock value. There were always other girls around, like Michel’le and Rose, and we never heard them talk like that. We never heard them say, “Bitch, get over here and suck my dick.” In their minds, only certain women were “like that,” and I’ve never presented myself like that, so I never gave them a reason to call me names.
(This is the part where we note that Dr. Dre later tried “to choke [Barnes] on the floor of the women’s room in Po Na Na Souk,” and that, when she hears “Keep Their Heads Ringing,” Barnes says her “head does ring and it hurts, exactly in the same spot every time where he smashed my head against the wall.”)
Barnes’ conclusion is especially poignant, with the journalist saying
Straight Outta Compton transforms N.W.A. from the world’s most dangerous rap group to the world’s most diluted rap group. In rap, authenticity matters, and gangsta rap has always pushed boundaries beyond what’s comfortable with hardcore rhymes that are supposed to present accounts of the street’s harsh realities (though N.W.A. shared plenty of fantasies, as well). The biggest problem with Straight Outta Compton is that it ignores several of N.W.A.’s own harsh realities. That’s not gangsta, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Try as they might, too much of N.W.A.’s story ain’t that kinda shit you can sweep under no rug.