ALL EYEZ ON ME
US, 2017 140 minutes, Colour.
Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh, Dominic L.Santana, Jamal Woolard, Cory Haardrict.
Directed by Benny Boom.
An audience needs to be well informed about the American Rap scene in the 1990s, especially about Tupac Shakur and his meteoric rise to success and his sudden death at age 25. If encountering this story for the first time or with a vague awareness about it, the 140 minute film needs a strong amount of commitment to stay with it.
It is very well made, recreating America from the 1970s to the 1990s, especially in terms of the world of the African- Americans, the immediate aftermath of the political uprisings of the 1960s and outspoken leaders of a more revolutionary vein than Martin Luther King like Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement. The film opens with Tupac’s mother (a strong and nuanced performance from Danai Gurira who has to change dramatically over the quarter century of the film’s action) released from jail, having conducted her own defence, pregnant, giving a defiant speech on the steps of the court.
Tupac is born in 1971, grows up in his early years in New York City, not knowing his birth father but bonding with his stepfather, Shakur, attending meetings, absorbing the revolutionary atmosphere. However, after a smug and brutally racist raid by the FBI, his mother decides that the family should move to Baltimore. His mother is also very strong on education and Tupac is seen as a teenager performing a soliloquy from Hamlet with the prospect of becoming an actor. However, his mother goes on the move again, this time to California. His close friend in Baltimore (and who later challenges his way of life) is Jada Pinkett (who has been married to Will Smith for many years).
Tupac experiences a sudden transition in California from his acting possibilities to music, to Rap music, to creating some stark stories, often stories of African- American experiences, in the drug world, unwanted pregnancies, suicide. (At one stage, Vice President Dan Quayle begins a campaign against the songs and is joined by a group of African- American women who object to the portrait of the black world.)
The rest of the film focuses on Tupac and his music, some MTV clips from the time, performances, with need for close attention by audiences not quite accustomed to Rap lyrics.
Tupac, 20, begins a steep rise to success, performing in some films, arguing with record producers about the value of his bleak lyrics, going on tour, making albums in rapid succession which go to the top of the charts. However, he gets caught up in the glamorous though often sleazy world of women, exploitation, criminals. He forms a bond with Quincey Jones’ daughter. He is frequently arrested – and ultimately goes to prison when he is set up for a rape accusation, not guilty, but sentence because of molestation.
He is harassed without cause by sneeringly violent police (and this is the period of Rodney King).
He does not stay long in prison but is taken up by record producer Suge Knight and becomes friends with performer, Biggie Smalls. This leads to complex negotiations, the founding Death Row Records (with artists like Dr Dre) and great success, his being asked to set up the branch on the East Coast.
Tupac Shakur was shot dead in a drive-by incident in 1996. There have been several other films about Tupac, a documentary by the British Nick Broomfield, Biggie and Tupac, as well as a portrait of Biggie Smalls, Notorious (with the same actor Jamal Woolard in Notorious and here). An afternote indicates that the murder has never been solved.
A comparison might be made with the 2015 Straight Outer Compton, a different take on the development of African- American musicians in the 1990s.
1. The title? Tupac Shakur? His album? His success? Title symbolic of his place in his world?
2. Audience knowledge of him? Life, career, his death?
3. US, 1971-1996? A quarter of a century? From President Nixon to President Clinton? Race issues in the 1960s and 70s, struggles, revolution, significant figures? From revolution to greater acceptance? Symbolised in the music world? From Rock to Rap?
4. The structure of the film: the director and his interviews, Tupac in prison, the director and his questions? The responses? The flashbacks to the past, 1971, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s?
5. Tupac’s mother, in prison, her conducting her own defence, getting out, the strong speech on the court steps? Revolution? Her pregnancy? The absence of Tupac’s father? Her new partner, Shakur, his place in the revolution, at home, disappearances, in prison? Her participation in movements? The FBI raid, the harsh treatment, her taking her children, going to Baltimore? Her ideas, action, emphasis on education and culture? Shakespeare? The decision to go to California, her family? The later descent into drugs, Tupac and taking her to rehabilitation? The recovery? Support, defending her son, visiting him, prison? A symbolic African- American life? A woman’s life?
6. The portrait of Tupac? His mother pregnant, his being born, the atmosphere of 1971, his childhood in New York, going to rallies, listening? His relationship with his stepfather? His sister? Life in the family, the experience of the FBI raid? Going to Baltimore, growing up, childhood, teenage? His friendship with Jada Pinkett? The performance of Hamlet and his being chosen to act? His prospects? His mother wanting to move to California? His reluctance?
7. Tupac’s adult life, the transition to California, the transition to music, band, activities, lyrics, the tours, the suddenness of the transition
8. The Rap era, the lyrics? His skills, meeting the producers, his talk, justifying his lyrics, urging them to take risks? The significance of the content? His performance? Success?
9. The criticisms of the vice president, Dan Quayle, the TV appearances, the denunciations? The meeting of the African- American women united against the content of these rap songs?
10. Tupac, the changing attitude, in his 20s, relationship with women, the touring life, records, appearance, clothes, tattoos, hair?
11. The producers, the Jewish producer, the white conservative producer, listening to Tupac, the decision to act? Their later reluctance to support him, especially in his court cases?
12. The speed of his career, the effect on him? Women, in the drug world? The number of albums? Radio play, touring?
13. His bad boy image, the range of arrests, his defence?
14. The picture of racist police, sneering and harassing?
15. The meeting with Suge Knight, producer? The relationship with Biggie Smalls, the bond?
16. His being set up, the woman luring him, the rape charge, his arrest, going to court, his speeches, his mother, the jury deciding against the rape, but his sentence for touch? The jail experience? The visits? His becoming depressed, being urged by friends to go on?
17. The range of friends, music coaches, music producers? The criminal element and issues of money? Getting out, the conditions, his albums and lyrics, the MTV clips? Suge Knight? Nigel? The setting up of Death Row Records? His going to the East Coast, unable to get out of his contract, yet setting up the division in the east?
18. Meeting with Quincey Jones’ daughter, his critique of her father, the relationship?
19. His great success, 25, his experiences, his future? Filmmaking and the scenes of his acting?
20. The media, his awards? The fans, the autographs? The drive-by shooting, his going to hospital, his death? The aftermath and the mystery of the responsibility for his death? His achieving music greatness by the age of 25?