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'Straight Outta' Women

While some people have heaped praises on Compton, others are more interested in what’s missing from Hollywood’s version of N.W.A.’s story—the women the group worked with, loved, and in some cases, abused.
‘Straight Outta’ Women
Michael Tran/FilmMagic
It’s hard to deny F. Gary Gray’s latest film, Straight Outta Compton, is a big damn deal. After all, the biopic, which chronicles the rise of one of rap’s most influential groups, took in more than $60 million during its opening weekend and even had people like Oprah and Ava DuVernay singing its praises. During its second weekend in theaters Compton did it again, raking in another $26.8 million, pushing its domestic gross to over $100 million.   But while some people have heaped praises on Compton, calling it a possible Academy Award contender, others are more interested in what’s missing from Hollywood’s version of N.W.A.’s story—the women the group worked with, loved, and in some cases, abused. In 1988, the year N.W.A.’s debut album Straight Outta Compton was released, I was a young girl in South Central Los Angeles, and like many others who grew up around my way, I was quickly falling in love with hip-hop. Back then, KDAY turned us on to music from all across the country, and soon Slick Rick became my favorite wordsmith. His playful rhymes and catchy hooks stood in a stark contrast to the drive-bys, gang wars, and crack that seemed to be eating South Central alive. Still, now matter how you feel about Straight Outta Compton, it’s hard to understate just how much NWA changed the rap game. Their lyrics were combative, aggressive, informative, vulgar, and—for those who knew Los Angeles that wasn’t all palm trees and superstars—so very real. N.W.A. picked up where Toddy Tee’s “Batterram” and Ice-T’s “6 ‘N the Morning” left off, giving the world unobstructed views of the side of L.A. that didn’t make it into the movies. If nothing else, N.W.A. will be remember as raw and real, and that’s why it’s so disappointing that the story we see in Straight Outta Compton is anything but an unflinching look at the group that regularly joked about killing, beating, and in some cases, and sexually assaulting young women. Though upsetting, it’s not surprising Straight Outta Compton presents a sanitized version of the self-proclaimed most dangerous group in the world. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube served as producers of the film. Since its release and all the conversation around the omissions, Dre admitted to “making some f–king horrible mistakes” and apologizing to the women he hurt. “Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did,” he admitted in a statement to the New York Times. “I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.” Ice Cube—at 46—is still spouting off problematic theories about females, bitches, and hoes, however. In Straight Outta Compton, gone is the vicious beating of journalist Dee Barnes, the Grammy party assault of Ruthless Records artist Tairrie B, and the repeated abuse of Dr. Dre’s ex-girlfriend and collaborator Michel’le.  Also, missing from the film are the contributions of female rappers like N.W.A.’s label mates J.J. Fad and Ice Cube’s protégé YoYo. Somehow, though, Snoop Dogg found his way into the biopic. When questioned about the omissions, Straight Outta Compton’s director reduced the women’s narratives to “side stories” that were cut from the film because he didn’t want them to be distracting. And when asked why he decided to turn a particularly degrading moment for a female character into a comedic scene, Gray said, “We should be focusing on how the police are treating innocent American citizens. What about that? Let’s talk about something as important, if not more important, if you really want to go there.” So I suppose we’re left to conclude that the treatment—or even mention—of women in the film aren’t important (unless they’re topless and grinding on the stars)? Got it. I guess Chinua Achebe was right when he said, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  Thankfully, the lionesses are speaking. Barnes penned a searing essay for Gawker recounting her horrific beating and the effects it’s had on her life. “I love Dre’s song ‘Keep Their Heads Ringin’—it has a particularly deep meaning to me. When I get migraines, my head does ring and it hurts, exactly in the same spot every time where he smashed my head against the wall,” she explains. “People have accused me of holding onto the past; I’m not holding onto the past. I have a souvenir that I never wanted. The past holds onto me.” J.J. Fad shared their thoughts on being erased from N.W.A.’s history as well. “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,” group member Juana Burns said in an interview. J.J. Fad’s single “Supersonic” sold 400,000 copies and helped Eazy-E secure a major label deal. Their success legitimized Eazy’s company and opened the door for N.W.A. “If I wasn’t sitting here telling you this, you would never know. The average person would never know how integral we were, and how pivotal we were to the whole NWA story.” Michel’le, who said she cried when she read Barnes’ essay, has been speaking out about her abusive relationship with Dr. Dre, which she says left her with scars and in need of plastic surgery. “I do remember when he first hit me, when he gave me my very first black eye, we laid in the bed and he cried,” Toussaint said in an interview with New York’s Power 105. “He was crying, I was crying ’cause I was in shock and hurt and in pain. I don’t know why he was crying. But he said, ‘I’m really sorry’ — I think that’s the only time he said he was sorry — and he said, ‘I’ll never hit you in that eye again, okay?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ and we fell asleep.” Tairrie B, the first white female rapper signed to a major label, has been lending her support to each of the women who’ve shared their stories and tweeting links to stories about what she calls Dre’s “serial abuse.” “They can keep covering up the truth,” she recently tweeted, “but nothing stays buried forever!” Barnes and Michel’le have both responded to Dre’s apology, raising questions about the motives but with Barnes stating, “Who cares why he apologized? The point is that he did.” In the same year that Bill Cosby’s legacy was demolished after dozens of women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault, it’s painful to hear people question why Barnes, Tairrie B, and Michel’le are speaking out now. Perhaps they are sick of their stories being erased, marginalized, or being seen as disposable, like the women we see in the film who orbit around the fictionalize version of N.W.A. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s finally time for the lionesses to be their own historians—even if their version never ends up on the big screen.