Why I Have No Interest In Seeing Straight Outta Compton

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Straight Outta Compton — the critically acclaimed depiction of N.W.A.'s origin — has been a commercial success, breaking box office records as it's on pace to be the highest-grossing music biopic ever. Millions have seen it in the theater, and millions more undoubtedly will.


I have not been (and will not be) one of them.

Since last week, several different people have asked for my opinion on the movie. After sharing that I haven't seen it, the response is always "Why not?"

Here's why.

1. I do not go to the movies often. When I do, it's usually either for a movie I desperately wanted to see (The Dark Knight, Kill Bill, etc) or for an action/sci-fi flick that's best appreciated on a large screen (Interstellar, Gravity, etc). The three movies I've seen this summer (Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the aggressively uninteresting Terminator Genisys) fit these qualifications.

Straight Outta Compton is a 150 minute-long biopic. And "150 minute-long biopic" means "I'll catch it on HBO next year."

2. I am very aware that the N.W.A. story is an essential one, in the context of both hip-hop culture and American culture. I'm also aware that for hip-hop fans of a certain age, Straight Outta Compton gives them something even more emotionally and spiritually resonate than entertainment: Nostalgia. They remember the moments and the people depicted in the film, and it allows them to relive those memories.


I am a hip-hop fan of that certain age. But the potential for cultural nostalgia isn't enough to convince me to see Straight Outta Compton in the theaters. Mainly because I've never been particularly enamored with the concept of nostalgia. Acknowledging, referencing, remembering, and chronicling the past is great and necessary. Reliving it, however, bores me. Whichever way I felt in 1991, I don't possess a want to feel that way ever again.

And, even if I were compelled by nostalgia, I don't imagine I'd find a depiction of the genesis of N.W.A. to be personally nostalgic. As alluded to earlier, I'm old enough to remember being a fan of rap music at this time. My intro to rap, however, was through LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys and KRS-1 and Public Enemy and Slick Rick and Eric B. and Rakim. West Coast rap just really wasn't on my radar then. And, even as I grew older, my tastes were decidedly East Coast-centric. Although, again, I recognize the value of the contributions Dr. Dre and Ice Cube made to hip-hop culture, the music they created never was that interesting to me.


3. I am not interested in paying to see a sanitized re-creation of shit I remember. Especially a re-creation created by the people re-created in the re-creation. This feeling isn't unique to Straight Outta Compton. I felt the same way about the recent biopics made about Biggie and Whitney Houston and Aaliyah. I mean…I remember when One in a Million dropped, and everyone tried (and failed) to recreate Timbaland's beats on cafeteria tables and school bus windows. I remember Biggie limping around in the "Hypnotize" video, and the day in school we heard that Tupac died. Watching a pseudo-factual pretend version of those events — with facsimiles in place of people I still have vivid memories of — just feels weird to me. I'd much rather watch an objective N.W.A. documentary with actual behind-the-scenes footage than a movie with pretend Dre and pretend Cube doing the pretend shit the real Dre and real Cube want you to see.

4. I am not not going to see Straight Outta Compton out of protest. As outlined in this piece, I have several aesthetic and randomly specific personal reasons not to. But, whichever tinge of ambivalence I had about taking three hours out of my day and paying $10 to see it turned to "Nah. I'm good." after reading how the movie glossed over the violence against women committed by its most prominent member. And, you know what? I still possibly could have been swayed. But then Ice Cube, who, at 46, is four years away from getting AARP membership information in the mail, came out and said something about bitches and hoes you'd expect the teenaged Ice Cube to say…not the multi-millionaire movie producer and star of the Are We There Yet? series. And I just don't feel compelled to give this man my money.


I will not pretend to be a perfectly moral person. I have numerous blind spots and biases. Shit, I probably have blind spots and biases I haven't even discovered yet. And I can be a hypocrite. I'm sure you can find examples of me supporting other morally questionable causes with my attention and/or money. But sometimes the choice is so obvious, the distinction so clear, that the cognitive dissonance that might allow for that support in other instances becomes too difficult to wrestle.

Not seeing it for this reason doesn't make me a better person (or you a worse person if you have). Just a person.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



This was an interesting for a few reasons:

I'll use your points as points.

1. It's basically not the type of movie you'd actually watch. It took you almost 15 years to see Love Jones, I'm not sure you've seen Love & Basketball yet, and I think you finally did see The Color Purple, but I'm not sure. Basically, you hate Black people. Damon…#blacklivesmatter.

2. You hate the past. But I seent you dancing at Reminisce.

3. I brought this point up to you yesterday but does it only make sense to see these movies when you're 90 years and your memory is spotty? This just sounds like you hate love.

4. Does this mean you won't support Cube going forward or have you not seen Friday either? Or will you just not watch Friday again should it be on? And does it mean you will turn your nose up at #byeFelicia.

If a DipSet movie comes out, and I see you in line, I'm callin' shenanigans.