In reviewing Straight Outta Compton, multiple articles have acknowledged the oft-repeated saying that “victors write history,” pointing out that if the movie is skewed or not telling a complete story, it’s because producers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Tomica Woods Wright (Eazy-E’s widow) and the director, F. Gary Gray, held the most sway over the script and co-signed on a story that resonated most with them i.e. one that shows a male-dominated universe in which women are bit players, whose role is to dutifully support and serve. It’s surely no coincidence that one of the only women in the movie who does come across as smart and influential is the one who plays Eazy E’s widow, yes, one of the producers.
It’s been argued that the movie was meant to focus on NWA and there was no room in an already long movie to chase side stories. And besides, some have argued, ’90s hip hop was misogynist so what do you expect? Well, hip hop is still misogynist (and it has no special monopoly on that, most institutions and movements are) but that doesn’t mean that women didn’t play an important part in the industry then and now in a multitude of roles, as artists, promoters, managers and journalists.
There is another old African saying that says, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Thankfully, a number of women who lived through and/or have expertise on ’90s hip hop have begun to voice their truths on the period, beginning the process of sketching in the lioness’s version of events. Their voices aren’t meant to take down the movie or diminish its greatness or entertainment value (all of the women below who reviewed the movie spoke positively of it), but to speak truth to power and thereby create a more accurate and fuller record of ’90s era hiphop.
Here are some of the articles and videos worth checking out if you’re looking for a more complete take on the era that was Straight Outta Compton:
“Here’s What’s Missing from Straight Outta Compton”: Journalist Dee Barnes set off the dialog with her Gawker article detailing her brutal beating in 1991 at the hands of Dre aka Andre Young, an article that also details his attacks on labelmates Tairrie B and singer Michel’le. One of the most mind-blowing details of the story is Barnes revealing that while she was blackballed by the entertainment industry after the event, the man who filmed the MTV Pump It Up! episode that led to her beating was Gray, yes, the very one who would go on to a successful Hollywood career, including his role as director of Straight Outta Compton. Jezebel followed up on the story, providing the treatment for the scene portraying the Barnes beating, which it’s said was ultimately cut. The article also includes an MTV video clip reporting on the assault and a chilling interview featuring NWA’s MC Ren, who states that Barnes deserved what she got and could expect more.
“J.J. Fad the Girl Group Cut Out of Straight Outta Compton”: Signed to Ruthless Records, all girl group J.J. Fad’s Supersonic album hit No. 33 on the Billboard Charts and legitimized Ruthless Records with a commercially successful album (see the video for the single “Supersonice” below). In the article, group member Juana Burns praises the movie, but dismisses the claim there wasn’t time for side stories, saying, “Well no, it takes two seconds to say something. Two seconds. Just say the name of the group so that people know that it was actually a part of the history.”
“Tairrie B, Hip Hop’s Original Bad Bitch Is Back”: Ruthless Record signee and white rap artist Tairrie B, aka Tairrie B. Murphy, details being punched in the mouth and eye by Dre at a post-Grammy party in 1990, an event initially reported by her manager, Linda Martinez, who witnessed it happen. For “Murder She Wrote,” a single from her 1990 album, The Power of a Woman, the video (below) opens with Tairrie B reading a newspaper that foreshadows the problematic theme of the movie with a headline reading, “NWA: Does this Stand for No Women Allowed?” Tairrie reached out to Barnes through Facebook last year to commiserate over their shared abuse story. Both are now working on books.
Michel’le Interview on The Breakfast Club on March 20, 2015: Ruthless Records-signed R&B singer-songwriter and longtime girlfriend of Dre provides details on her relationship with the producer as well as Suge Knight, who she also dated and had a child with. The interview took place before the movie was released, but when asked about her participation by show host Angela Yee at 28:04, she says that she is neither in it nor was she consulted about it despite being “there from the beginning.” Says a surprised Yee, “They should have at least talked to you, I’m sure you have a lot of information.”
YoYo School of Hip Hop: YoYo aka Yolanda Whittaker was mentored by Ice Cube, who guested on her well-received debut 1992 album, Make Way for the Motherlode. She also acted with Cube in the movie Boyz in the Hood. YoYo isn’t mentioned in Straight Outta Compton and hasn’t said anything on the record about the movie (that we can find), other than a post on Instagram last week in which she enthuses, “Can’t wait to show my support!” As linked here, YoYo runs a a hip-hop themed educational program and also has a history of advocating for women as the founder and spokesperson for the Intelligent Black Women’s Coalition (IBWC), “a call to arms to women everywhere committed to the education and survival of young black women. Its central aim is to challenge sexism within rap and to provide a space for the voice of female rappers.”
“Who Are the Women of Straight Outta Compton”: A Slate article provides details on the women in the film, as well as some that were left out, including Dee Barnes and Michel’le. The article reveals that Dre’s mother Verna Griffin was the member of an all-girl group called the Four Aces, which she dropped out of when she became pregnant as a 15-year old. In the video below, Griffin provides more details on her Compton upbringing and how multiple abusive relationships have impacted her:
“Bye Felicia Gets an Uncomfortable Origin Story”: Reporter Allison P. Davis digs deep into the origin of the “bye Felicia” scene from Straight Outta Compton and reveals a choice to include a gratuitously mean moment reflective of the movie’s overall dismissive view of female humanity.
“Reflections of #StraightOuttaCompton”: Author and social commentator Feminista Jones critiques the movie, providing special insight into how NWA was perceived as viewed through the lens of a woman who came up through New York’s ’90s-era hip hop scene. She also provides her view on how the film was shot, describing the misogyny as intentional and blatant, “[Women] were background furniture and ornaments for this movie.”
“White Critics and Rap Fans Love Straight Outta Compton, but They’re Missing Half the Story”: Journamlist Jamilah Lemieux critiques the critics and discusses NWA’s lasting, damaging legacy, writing, “It seems audiences across the country may cast aside N.W.A.’s potent brand of misogyny and focus only the group’s willingness to speak plainly about their hatred of police. Unfortunately, it seems they hated black women just as much. And those of us who’ve called that out (most especially Barnes) have been attacked, dismissed and shamed on social media as opportunists and haters of black men — so much so that one can’t help but wonder how many of my own peers share that same sexism.”
“Dr. Dre Apologizes to the Women I’ve Hurt”: Most of the women above who have taken a stand and spoken out have been attacked and criticized for providing their truth as if theirs is any less worthwhile than the version of events provided by the producers and directors of Straight Outta Compton. That said, their unwillingness to stay silent created enough waves that that Dre was forced to give a statement to the NY Times, issuing a general apology to women he’s hurt. Barnes responds to the apology in a follow up Gawker article here, and Michel’le has, too, describing it as “insincere.”
Dre’s forced-sounding apology aside, the bigger and more important reveal in the Times article came from Michel’le, who in the article revealed, “Opening up and finding out there were other women like me gave me the power to speak up,” concluding, “They told their story. I’m telling mine.” It really is that simple, folks.