It’s hard to deny Straight Outta Compton is a hit. The F. Gary Gray biopic about the rise of N.W.A. made box office history, garnering $60.2 million in its opening weekend. The film is also a critical success, with some even suggesting it should be in contention for Hollywood’s highest honor, an Academy Award.
But while the film chronicles the chaotic period of the late ’80s and ’90s in South Central Los Angeles, one thing is painfully absent: N.W.A.’s vile treatment of women.
Aside from churning out tracks that called women every disrespectful name in the book, joking about their death, and even bragging about rape, N.W.A. member and producer Dr. Dre also beat multiple women.
In 1991, Dre viciously attacked journalist Dee Barnes, leaving her with permanent ringing in her ears and unable to find job in the industry. During the assault, Barnes said Dre slammed her head against the wall, kicked her, stomped on her fingers, and tried to throw her down the stairs. All of this happened during the timeframe covered in Straight Outta Compton, but it’s conspicuously absent from the film.
After years of remaining silent about the attack, Dee Barnes is finally speaking out in a searing personal essay for Gawker that you really need to read.
“That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either,” she explains. “The truth is too ugly for a general audience.”
The ugliness of the Compton film is instead reserved for racist cops and shady businessmen, but never N.W.A.’s despicable actions toward women. Watching the film, Barnes said her story, and the stories of other women who were assaulted, was “a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.”
Dre, who executive produced the movie along with his former groupmate Ice Cube, should have owned up to the time he punched his labelmate Tairrie B twice at a Grammys party in 1990. He should have owned up to the black eyes and scars he gave to his collaborator Michel’le. And he should have owned up to what he did to me. That’s reality. That’s reality rap. In his lyrics, Dre made hyperbolic claims about all these heinous things he did to women. But then he went out and actually violated women. Straight Outta Compton would have you believe that he didn’t really do that.
But he did. And in a Rolling Stone cover story promoting the film he sorta kinda admitted it.
I made some fucking horrible mistakes in my life. I was young, fucking stupid. I would say all the allegations aren’t true – some of them are. Those are some of the things that I would like to take back. It was really fucked up. But I paid for those mistakes, and there’s no way in hell that I will ever make another mistake like that again.
Still, the lack of direct acknowledgment of his actions, and fact that the assault (or mere mention of it) didn’t even make it into the film is troubling at best, and down right sickening at worse.
What makes the whole thing even more terrible is that Compton director F. Gary Gray reduced Barnes’ ordeal to a “side story” that just couldn’t fit in the film because he had to “focus on the story that was pertinent to our main characters.”
Gray seemed to treat Barnes’ assault as some kind of rumor that could not be confirmed and therefore cut from the film, but Gray worked with Barnes and shot the Pump It Up! footage that got her beat to a pulp.
Their minds were so ignorant back then, claiming that I set them up and made them look stupid. That wasn’t a setup. It was journalism and television, first of all, and secondly, I had nothing to do with the decision to run the package as it did. After an interview with N.W.A., the segment ended with Ice Cube saying “I got all you suckers 100 miles and runnin’,” and then, imitating N.W.A. affiliate the D.O.C.: “I’d like to give a shoutout to the D.O.C. Y’all can’t play me.” I was a pawn in the game. I was in it, but so was a true opportunist: the director of Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray.
That’s right. F. Gary Gray, the man whose film made $60 million last weekend as it erased my attack from history, was also behind the camera to film the moment that launched that very attack. He was my cameraman for Pump It Up!
Barnes goes on to say she’s been black-balled from the industry since the attack. Although she successfully auditioned for a role in Gray’s film Set It Off, he refused to give her the part because he’d cast Dr. Dre. And while she once was a promising young journalist, Barnes hasn’t been able to land a job because “they don’t want to affect their relationship with Dre,” the man who made a billon-dollar deal with Apple.
Barnes’ story is painful to read, but it’s not unique. Women’s stories are often muted so a man’s mythic rise can shine even brighter, or in the case of Barnes, erased all together because far too often women are forced to the margins to orbit around a man as a muse, lover, or wise old matriarch.
Thankfully, Barnes is finally speaking her truth. I just hope more people start to listen.