Born on June 16, 1971, the movie was released on his birthday in celebration of his life, music and contributions to American culture by way of hip-hop. Director Benny Boom, a Philadelphia native and world renowned music video director, worked with a cast of fairly unknown actors to bring the untold story of Shakur’s life to the big screen. If you’re looking for a well-paced, entertaining but thoughtful glimpse into the life of the enigma that was Tupac Shakur, you should go see this film.
Born and raised in New York City, I lived and breathed hip-hop. I embraced the music and embodied the style, I was fluent in the language, and developed an early passion for defending this new culture as legitimate and worthy of respect. In the mid-1990s you were influenced by who you listened and to whom you were loyal in rap beefs. There was an immense pride in repping your ‘hood and city and showing huge support for the hometown heroes.
We accepted it as part of the culture. We regard “beef” as artistic representation of the realities of street life.
As tensions grew between East and West Coast artists and labels, I found myself wondering how deep things would go before someone was killed. Then, in my senior year in high school, the hip-hop world lost two of its biggest stars to fatal gun violence.
2Pac and Biggie.
Both deaths were devastating blows to fans around the world; their murders remain unsolved to this day, leaving fans to wonder more about the lives of these two masterful artists.
In All Eyez On Me, Boom attempts to answer that question and more about Shakur by presenting his life, in large part, in his own words. The project has been in motion since 2011, with critically-acclaimed director, John Singleton, at the helm. After he bowed out, Boom stepped in and focused on telling the story of an incredible artist whose life ended entirely too soon.
Without giving away too much, I admit that I learned things I hadn’t previously been aware of, like the serious financial struggles that motivated the platinum-selling artist, his alleged poor decision-making and the intimacy of his relationship with his Black Panther mother, Afeni Shakur.
It was refreshing to see new faces on the screen; several of the actors truly transformed into the characters they portrayed. Demetrius Shipp Jr. portrayed Shakur with a focused determination that makes you forget he is an unknown actor and not Shakur himself. It’s apparent that he deeply studied Shakur’s speaking patterns, physical bravado, performance style and overall swagger. Dominic L. Santana was brilliant as record label owner, Suge Knight. And Jamal Woolard reprised his role as The Notorious B.I.G. from 2009’s Notorious, the biopic about the legendary hip-hop icon’s life, this time with greater nuance and a show of artistic growth as an actor.
Boom takes us into Shakur’s tumultuous homes, into his crime-ridden streets, to the front row of some of his best concert performances, into the secret, occasionally nefarious business meetings and provides just a bit more insight into the complicated psyche of a man who seemed to ultimately be consumed by his own demons and insecurities.
Despite the inaccuracies pointed out by Jada Pinkett Smith, we get more insight into his relationship with her and Kidada Jones, two women who, along with his mother, seemed to be the ones who genuinely knew the man behind the curtain.
The film attempts to speak for someone who was never at a loss for words but who seemed to die without having truly been heard.
As a hip-hop lover and a casual fan of Shakur’s music, I was more excited to cheer on the nostalgia and rap along my trip down memory lane. I appreciated the attention to detail to accurately depict specific moments in hip-hop history. I respected that there was no attempt to clear Shakur’s name —so to speak— but to offer a fuller backstory and deeper explanations about incidents in his life. He is, in some ways, depicted as a contradictory victim of his own hype and poor choices. He is also, in other ways, depicted as someone who, had he lived and been given another chance, might have actually gotten things “right.”
Is it a perfect movie? No. But it’s a strong contender for one of the best biopics in the last three decades.