Commentary Movies Reviews

Structural Violence: Straight Outta Compton review

Jason Dias
Written by Jason Dias

If you tend to side with the cops in all those stories you see about police abuse, you won’t like Straight Outta Compton — or this Straight Outta Compton review. Check them out.

jason-dias-anewdomainaNewDomain — Here at aNewDomain, we’re no strangers to the oppressive tactics of the LAPD. Our own Ted Rall had what is best described as a run-in 14 years ago, a weird jaywalking stop that involved handcuffs. The officer behaved strangely, whistling and talking in a way that didn’t match his affect.

The weird behavior was explained in the modern era when the LAPD stopped by Ted’s bosses’ office to get him fired: They played a tape of the stop and said he’d lied about it in a column. The whistling was intended to cover up the people in the street yelling at the cop to take the cuffs off, it appears. The weird, cheerful voice was about playing to the tape. Nothing Ted claimed happened was audible on the tape, because none of his claims were audible things.

Anyway, this is all proven and squared away now. And I do hope Ted sues the LAPD and The Los Angeles Times, too, for a billion dollars.

straight outa compton review

Anyway. 

When you go to see “Straight Outta Compton,” and I’m going to recommend you go ahead and do that, the cops are presented definitively as the bad guys. If you’re in the set that sees police violence against unarmed black people and blames the minorities, or you’re part of the people that send posts to Fakesbook in support of cops everywhere, why, this movie is not going to amuse you. 

Not at all.

The film is shot through with the theme of the Rodney King incident. When NWA are up on stage yelling “Fuck the police!” that’s what they’re yelling about. About being beat down by cops on a daily basis, about living in a war zone: cops against citizens, gangs against gangs, Crips and Bloods biting one another the way an animal in pain attacks itself, mauls its own injured body.

This is the major theme: structural violence. Primarily white-on-black violence. The film is careful to showcase the fact that, sometimes, white-on-black violence is enacted by people of color and that, sometimes, white people stand between the parties involved, try to calm things down. There’s a scene at a recording studio in a “good” neighborhood. The rappers are outside, supporting Andre through a tough time. The cops roll up.

straight outa compton review

It is a black cop who starts the confrontation, leads the charge. It is the white manager who diffuses things. But this is still white-on-black, structural violence.

There’s a lot to this movie that’s pretty standard. Origins, talent, explosive fame, people who handle it badly, the eventual meltdown. Following that, people come to their senses. We all have to go through the bad times to really figure out who we are. Get drunk, mess up a few times, alienate some people. On the other side of that, maybe, is the good person we could be if we could learn from empathy – hurt people, see how we hurt them, change for the better.

This isn’t a feminist movie. The movement at this time was intensely masculine, with all the trouble that entails. Lots of naked women in this one, objectified, even used badly. I might wish it was different but NWA weren’t the feminist league of America and, if we’re being honest, let’s be brutally honest.

All that stuff, though, is set dressing. There’s only really one scene in the movie. It’s the beating of Rodney King, start to finish through the whole movie. The news lady explains on the TV that everyone was acquitted. Nobody is going to jail for this, use of force was justified. Jerry Heller says, “Can we get back to work now?” Eazy-E says, “This IS the work.”

straight outa compton reviewIn Detroit, the cops tell the band they can’t do Fuck Tha Police on stage. They do it anyway – that’s the point: Cops have been enacting oppression for too long and the people are not going to keep taking it. The police move in, blame the band for inciting a riot. Maybe it didn’t go down exactly as portrayed on the screen — nobody was ever charged, no shots fired, no arrests on the scene — but this was the heart of the story.

These are people from a place where the police are the enemy. Now the guys in the band, they “aren’t saints” either, as we like to say about the people killed by police every day. The police violence causes or exacerbates the existing neighborhood violence. It escalates it. Before long we have a war. You want to blame the neighborhood people, the Boyz in da Hood want to blame the cops.

Suge Knight is a violent sociopath in this one. Thugs bust up an office with bats. Ice Cube punches a face or two. 

Who is to blame?

Just keep your eye on the Rodney King subplot that is really the only scene in the movie. 

No one — that is no “one” — is to blame. 

These are just guys doing the best they can in the midst, the context, of structural violence.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

Check out the official “Straight Outta Compton” trailer here.

Cover image/image one: via YouTube video, All Rights Reserved; inset image one: Renegadepopo.com, All Rights Reserved; image two: via YouTube video, All Rights Reserved; image three: Irwinator.com, All Rights Reserved.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.