On the surface, Tupac was a young man with big dreams who wished to find a way out of a dead end street where so many black families and individuals dwell indefinately. To those that looked more closely, Tupac was a black man on a mission to be heard, a black man with a story to tell, to which fame was merely part of the bargain.
I did not grow up listening to Tupac’s music, although I was very much familiar with his voice due to his consistent radio play. But after acquainting myself with his interviews and public speaking endeavors, I grew to love and respect Tupac the man. I now see music as his outlet of greatness, for he was a great musician but a formidable product of a rose well watered by the strength of a black woman.
His story is not a narrative of consciousness, but a black man dedicated to exposing the intricacies of systemic truth. His flow is flawlessly captivating, appealing to those who do not have a preference for hip hop. He’s charming, handsome with a smile that softens his sometimes callous lyrics. He’s one of a kind, but of a kind shortchanged and intentionally misread by much of the imperial west.
The film succeeds in resurrecting a young black artist slain at the ripe age of twenty-five. Despite his untimely death, Shakur accomplished more in a quarter of a century then some do in a lifetime. His music continues to inspire those who wish to look beneath the exterior of this acquired land. Directed by the esteemed Benny Boom and Producer LT Hutton, the film shows what we need to see more–black people telling their own stories. Together these two men honor Tupac’s understanding of collective and step outside of themselves to remember a fellow black man who never got a chance to stand at the height of his success. Here are some of the stand moments/depictions from the film.
- If Tupac is a king than its because he came from a Queen
The stand out portrayal in this film was not of Tupac himself, but of his mother, Afeni Shakur. The movie begins with Afeni Shakur’s acquittal—which she obtained through self representation months before she would give birth to the man known as Tupac Shakur. Afeni Shakur encompassed the courage, strength,and brilliance of her ancestors, making her maternal roots bound to bear superior fruit. Perhaps the most resounding line from Afeni Shakur during the film is “Your body is in prison, but your mind is not.” This line personifies the essence of blackness. From the physical penitentiary, to being forced to strive for western conventionality, the black body faces various manifestations of imprisonment-to which they can solely overcome with mental liberation.
This mental liberation definitely come at a price. The film depicts Afeni Shakur’s liberation from legal troubles as preceding a self-medicating process where the former black panther seeks to ease her losses and impoverished state through drugs. Though she overcomes her addiction, Shakur faces the unspeakable pain of having to visit her child in a maximum security prison and ultimately bury him months after his twenty-fifth birthday. Afeni Shakur illustrates the detriment of black femininity and black strength in a world that only seeks to extinguish the flame of black originality through various manifestations of misery.
2. “Vanity asks if its popular”
The film shows a passionate Tupac salvage song “Brenda’s Got a Baby” from omission by record executives. Tupac informs the record executives who initially labeled the song “depressing” that the song derived from truth. Namely, the song came from a news story that grew fainter and fainter. This depiction functioned to illustrate that Shakur did not pursue music as a mean to obtain popularity, but to give a voice to those silenced due to their exposure of an unsettling reality.
3. Two sides of a coin?
The juxtapositions in the film were also quite noteworthy. The film depicts a conversation between Shakur and late rapper Biggie Smalls–which embodied a conversation between a negro and a melanated man on a journey to consciousness. Smalls wanted to inspire the masses to purchase his album, Shakur merely wanted to inspire. Though this depiction is not harsh or judgmental, their prompts viewers to consider the motives of artists blinded supported with an often undeserving loyalty.
4. Humanizing the Black Rapper
I do appreciate how the film functions to soften the hardened image of the black hip hop artists. Namely, the film humanizes the bellicose nature of the East coast v West Coast feud, showing Smalls attempt to visit Shakur after the shooting. Even prior to the shooting, Smalls admonishes Shakur’s friendship with the man who will ultimately implement the action that lands Shakur in jail. This portrayal is essential in reasserting the black male narrative, replacing a fictive brutality with brotherly love.
5. A loyalty to the people
The film takes viewers back to the shooting in which Shakur comes to the defense of a black man being physically assaulted by two white men later revealed to be undercover policemen. This was perhaps my favorite moment in the entire film, because it illustrates the true gangsters of America as white not black men. This scene also affords Shakur the necessary depth to perceive him as a man bound to justice, not limited to his lyrics.
6. The blame game
The film features the extensive criticism Shakur faced from black feminist groups and the then-Vice President Dan Quale. This depiction demonstrates a strategic misunderstanding of the victim and villian. Do I condone vulgar, violent, and or mysognostic lyrics? No. But the conscious gaze understands that these lyrics are reactionary and reflective of a society founded on these very attributes.
7. Love without sex
Although Jada has since expressed her dissatisfaction regarding the film’s portrayal of her treasured friendship, the film’s depiction of this friendship is one of its most poignant portrayals. The bond between Shakur and the then Jada Pinkett is genuine, instant, and timeless.
But most important is the rewritten page this portrayal allots the black narrative. In depicting a loving relationship that exists outside of sex, the film counters the hyper sexualized image of black men.
8. Black Women as a pawns
The movie revisits the sexual assault accusation that landed Tupac in a maximum security prison. This case illustrates a move mastered by white oppressors–using the black woman against the black man. We’ve seen this most recently in the Rihanna/Chris Brown case, and even the R. Kelly scandal, where the western world appears to care about the violated black body, but in actuality solely cares about finding a means to incarcerate the black male. The white supremacists placed Tupac in prison with ambitions to poison his pride and purpose. They hoped it would destroy him, and when it did not, they found another means. This violence would aid in the Shakur’s scripted murder, suggesting his violent ways merely “caught up” with him. But the conscious gaze knows it was the white supremacists who caught up with the young black artist.
9. Cory Hardrict!
While Demetrius Shipps’ portrayal of Tupac definitely feeds the rumors of Shakur’s faked death in his physical likeness to the late rapper, Hardrict’s portrayal of Nigel is a standout performance by a highly underrated actor–an opportunity granted by a black production.
Honorable Mention: Jarrett Ellis’ portrayal of Snoop Dogg. The voice is eerily spot on.
While the film overall succeeds in its portrayals, there are three things that did not sit well with me. Well four, but I’ll use the honorable mention to issue this post a proper closing
- One thing I did not like about the film was the quoting of Shakespeare by both Tupac and Afeni Shakur. Quoting Shakespeare, a covert racist, discounts the the intellect and black liberation agenda central to both Shakur and his mother’s personal ideology. It just seems odd not to quote Dubois, Booker T. Washington, David Walker, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Newton or anyone directly linked to their collective plight.
- I also did not like the hotel scene where women were placed like furniture ornamenting a caricatured rapper lifestyle. This scene functioned identically to a scene in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. Now, I understand the pressures and sexist standards of wealth and testosterone make this a reality–so for this reason it is the act that sparks my criticism not the portrayal.
- Although the act does positively portray Shakur as both humble and open-minded, I did not like Pac retracting his statement regarding Quincy Jones’ interracial unions, I do realize that he was drawn to Kidada, but his comment, although accompanying specific people, was a collective critique on a behavior that belittles the black collective. PAC should not have to apologize for having high standards for himself and his people.
Finally, my honorable mention.
The movie shows the last scene with Kidada and Tupac as a longing goodbye that occurs as if both know the fate that awaits the young superstar. This heartbreaking depiction also layers the often shallow figure of the black rapper as one half of an unfinished black love story.
As Shakur enters a car with the infamous Suge Knight, viewers know the end is near and I couldn’t help but wonder if Shakur did too. The film ends with Tupac cast along the driveway of the Emergency Room, bleeding from multiple wounds. The scene brilliantly portrays his final minutes as an eternity as Shakur— a son, artist and beacon of hope for so many- slowly meets an unfortunate yet predictable end.
It bothered me to watch the film end with Shakur dying in the street—but in this moment Pac lay in a position occupied by countless black bodies—male and female—since our abduction centuries ago. From the black men and women who felt the cool summer breeze seconds before their death by hanging, drowning, or stoning in the nineteenth century, to Michael Griffith who was run onto a highway by a group of abrasive white teens in the 1980s, to Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown who lay bleeding in the street after being mortally wounded by cowards protected by western fiction. The film ending separates producer LT Hutton from contemporary producers like Emma Asante, Tyler Perry, Jordan Peele etc in a refusal to romanticize the American Horror story that intractably cast their eyes, their wrath, their deficiencies, and psuedo superiority onto the black collective .
Furthermore, while this is certainly not the kind of film I’ll watch over and over again, and is far from a “must see,” I give it an 8/10–mostly for its bravery and overt dedication to reasserting the stigma of black men through one of the black collective’s most treasured figures.