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Take 'Straight Outta Compton' with a grain of salt
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By Andrea Peyser
August 24, 2015

Take 'Straight Outta Compton' with a grain of salt

Hollywood has long spun fairy tales to a gullible public searching for life lessons. “Pretty Woman’’ sold the fable that a hooker with a heart of gold who looks exactly like Julia Roberts is eager to melt the cold, dead heart of a billionaire john who looks astonishingly like Richard Gere.

“Philomena’’ took a story rooted in fact to sell the myth that in the 1950s and ’60s, mean Irish nuns, and the entire Roman Catholic Church by extension, routinely ripped children born out of wedlock from the arms of their mothers and sold them to Americans.

Now comes “Straight Outta Compton,’’ Tinseltown’s sanitized treatment of pioneering West Coast gangsta rappers N.W.A. (N—az Wit Attitude) Featuring an appealing assortment of fresh-faced young actors, the movie demonstrates that the greatest ills facing African-American males are not bloodthirsty street gangs, poverty, unemployment, drugs, unscrupulous managers or their own misogyny. The film’s chief bogeymen are white cops, and even a black one, who get off on harassing, beating and handcuffing innocent men for the crime of looking, in the film’s parlance, dope.

Some critics compare the movie, which is going gangbusters at the box office, with a multiracial audience, to “8 Mile.’’ That semi-biographical film stars white, Detroit-bred rapper Marshall “Eminem’’ Mathers III, who overcomes the color of his skin to make it in the African-American-dominated hip-hop word.

But I see greater parallels with “The Social Network,’’ the biopic about white Harvard University dropout Mark Zuckerberg. He overcomes middle-class angst and lawsuits to co-found the multibillion-dollar Facebook Web site.

“Compton’’ and “The Social Network” bear this common message: The key to striking it rich is giving the people something they had no clue they needed.

It’s hard to believe that in the 1980s, law-enforcement types feared and reviled N.W.A. as the biggest threat to the peace since the invention of the AK-47 assault rifle. In a pivotal scene, the FBI serves a menacing letter to the group, clearly warning them against performing the hit “F—k tha Police.’’


Conservative Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, tweeted, “Hey @TeamMarco clear two hours on my schedule on Aug 14. Gotta see #StraightOuttaCompton.’’

My hub and I could not resist mouthing the rap’s catchy, obscene chorus as we spilled out of a Brooklyn Heights multiplex.

But in 1989, as the film tells it, N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) advises the group members to avoid performing the rap at their next show.

Instead, rapper Eric “Eazy-E’’ Wright (Jason Mitchell) announces that he’s handing the letter to the media. (F—k tha feds?)

The rap plays on. The FBI backs down. And the film transforms from a tale of free speech in the face of government intimidation to one of marketing and public-relations genius.

Eazy-E died tragically of AIDS-related complications in 1995 at age 31. Or was he murdered, as conspiracy buffs claim?

The performers, not nearly as bad­ass as their real-life counterparts were once considered to be, seem as capable of reciting Shakes­peare as spouting four-letter words. Corey Hawkins, the 26-year-old actor who plays N.W.A. co-founder Andre “Dr. Dre’’ Young, is straight outta The Julliard School, and made his Broadway debut in a revival of “Romeo and Juliet.’’

O’Shea “Ice Cube’’ Jackson, 46, played by his mini-me 24-year-old son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., has reinvented himself from a rapper into a mainstream comic actor, filmmaker and record and TV producer. Dre and Cube are among the film’s producers.

Even reports that movie studio Universal Pictures offered to reimburse theaters for extra security costs to thwart violence (which never materialized) seemed to be ploys for building hype. But “Compton’’ has generated a genuine controversy.

The movie ignores Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women, including a savage 1991 attack on rapper and former Fox TV hostess Dee Barnes. Dre pleaded no contest to assault charges and settled Barnes’ civil lawsuit against him out of court.

Since the movie’s release, two other women have come forward saying they were brutalized by Dre, 50. So he released a statement to The New York Times apologizing “to the women I’ve hurt’’ nearly 25 years ago.

The belated mea culpa seems to be commercially motivated.

Last year, Dre and the co-founder of Beats Electronics sold their music empire to Apple for $3.2 billion, and the men retained senior positions with the company. Dre, and Apple, don’t want their business dealings overshadowed by scandal.

“Straight Outta Compton’’ is good summer fun. But like everything in the big-money rap realm, it should be taken with a truckload of salt.

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