Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton is the best music biopic I’ve seen in a long time. A huge box-office success, it’s a fascinating story with a killer soundtrack. In other words,”damn, that shit was dope”.

I remember the first time I heard Eazy-E and N.W.A. It was a mix tape at a friend’s house in middle school, where we were just kids in the suburbs, far removed from any actual violence. In a Yo! MTV Raps age, we loved the music, but didn’t have a clue how meaningful it was or the impact it had. To us, the Los Angeles riots were just another lesson of the week on Beverly Hills, 90210. I don’t necessarily mean I was sheltered; I lived in a suburb of Richmond, Virginia, which had one of the worst homicide rates in the country in the mid-80’s and 90’s. I recall kids on buses, joking and throwing up gang signs like it was no big deal, and there’s actually a similar scene in the movie, but with real consequences.

The film showcases a major moment in music history, with N.WA. bringing “reality rap” (aka, “gangster rap”) to the mainstream, and it’s a blast to go down memory lane with other artists of that era. Anyone who grew up watching MTV’s The Grind after school will be positively giddy when “California Love” comes on. And just try not to mouth along when Snoop shows up with, “1, 2, 3 and to the 4…”.

Unfortunately, with all the police violence still occurring in pockets of the country, the themes couldn’t be more timely. It was snubbed for Best Picture, but it is up for an Oscar for Original Screenplay. Regardless of a win, studios can’t ignore the success of this film, and they need to start acting on it. (Available on DVD.)

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Much has been said already on the lack of diversity with this year’s Oscars, so I don’t really feel that I have anything to add at this point. Instead, I want to share my favorite films starring all-black casts. There are many movies with an African-American star as the lead (Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah, Will Smith), but for the purposes of this list, I’m focusing on the films where most, or all, of the main cast is black. Consider this your binge list!

Love & Basketball – Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps (2000) This is one of my favorite movies, period. Monica & Quincy grow up next door to each other, both wanting to play in the NBA, and have a love-hate relationship that lasts from high school, well into their pro careers. One of the final scenes, where she plays Quincy “for his heart”, is better than any Julia Roberts speech about “just being a girl, standing in front of a boy…”. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who also did the fantastic Beyond the Lights–another must-see.

The Best Man – Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut (1999) My college suitemates and I probably watched this film about 200 times our sophomore year. College friends come together for one’s wedding, and old secrets come out. Such a fun cast, with a great story and great music. (My favorite scene is Taye Diggs and Nia Long dancing to Stevie Wonder’s “Always”.) I have to immediately stop what I’m doing and watch it whenever I come across it on TV. The Best Man Holiday was a nice reunion, but didn’t have the same sparkle as the first film, unfortunately.

Waiting to Exhale – Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine (1995) This movie has a helluva cast, including the great Dennis Haysbert and Gregory Hines. Based on the popular novel by Terry McMillan, the movie follows four women and their relationships. Like Sex and the City, the female friendships are really the main love story. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t love this film. “Shoop, shoop, shoop…”

Something New – Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker (2006) I’m a big fan of Sanaa Lathan, and I’ll watch pretty much any film she’s in, but this is one of her best roles, in my opinion. Also, the scene where Simon Baker paints her toenails is everything. A great story about interracial dating.

About Last Night – Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant (2014) I love this remake of the 1986 film, which was also a David Mamet play. This is one of my favorite Kevin Hart roles, and it’s just a great romantic comedy in general. (Love the meta moment where the leads are watching the older film and say, “I love this movie.”)

More great music biopics and music films: Ray, Get On Up, The Five Heartbeats, Dreamgirls, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Bessie

More romantic comedies/dramas: Brown Sugar, Jumping the Broom, Love Jones, Think Like a Man, The Preacher’s Wife, Just Wright, Baggage Claim

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