Making history as the highest grossing Biopic of all time, Straight Outta Compton is set to be a cornerstone for the genre, providing a platform for a story of rags to riches set against the ever evolving landscape of hip hop. Focussing in on the rise of the iconic N.W.A as they brought revolution to the masses via a recording studio, be it fighting their social injustices or the west coast vs east coast rivalry, the film does a great job of bring their tale to life. But how accurate is this portrayal of the 80’s hip hop powerhouse?
Having Dr Dre and Ice Cube as executive producers certainly seemed to influence some artistic choices made by F. Gary Grey, as both of their characters have been given a lot more screen time than MC Ren, whose vocal opposition to the film may be the reasoning to the unfair downplaying of his character’s involvement in the film. However, more notably Dr Dre’s violent history with women, such as his attack on presenter Dee Barnes, was left out of the movie, and is rather glossed over. This prompted a public outcry and even resulted in an online apology from Dr Dre in the New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/arts/music/dr-dres-apology-is-acknowledged-with-some-misgivings.html>
But Straight Outta Compton isn’t the first Biopic to use a lavish amount of artistic licence. Nowhere Boy, a tale following John Lennon’s childhood apparently exaggerated how harsh his Aunt Mimi Smith was, even leading to Paul McCarthy speaking out, claiming that she wasn’t the tyrannical character depicted on screen. Ray, a biopic based on the life and music of Ray Charles gave the audience a romanticized ending, when in reality he continued to be raging alcoholic and womanizer well past his divorce (the film ended with him happily married). Moreover the film neglected what could have been a captivating story about his educational journey through public school, rather opting for a focus on his mid music career crisis.
It’s not even musical biopics that have used the truth rather flippantly. Take a look at The Imitation Game and its unfair portrayal of Alan Turning as a potential soviet spy supporter, something which never occurred and in some way taints his image as a gay icon for some. In 2014’s Wild, a story about Cherly Strayed who travelled 1100 miles along the Pacific Ocean after the death of her mother, many scenes in regards to her promiscuity were exaggerated for storytelling purposes.
But how much accuracy can we expect from biopics? They don’t claim to be documentaries, but nor do they have the right to be complete fiction. In some ways Straight Outta Compton may have its flaws, but essentially it captures what N.W.A were trying to achieve when they started out in their small little recording studio. Capturing that spirit of the rappers angst towards their current situation and desire to escape the restrains of Compton translates brilliantly on screen.
Essentially that’s where the difficulty of a Biopic directly lies in. Capturing the spirit of the people they are depicting. Respecting not only the people on screen but also those whom they loved and who they were loved by. Even if it’s isn’t 100% historically accurate, it’s better to let the onscreen character reflect the spirt of what made their story being worth of being told in the first place.