Brexit, Skinheads, Clinton v. Trump, and the Crappiest Ongoing News Cycle in a Long Time


Prejudice is not a bogeyman. It is not an indicator of innate evil and sadism, tucked safely into less developed times and places that won’t return because lessons have been learned. It is not something you are invulnerable to because you have a brain and you’re your own person. It’s not a novelty. Prejudice is a Venus flytrap that catches you when you’re not paying attention. It’s an attitude that shows itself in fleeting spurts, in average people you don’t expect to see it in. It’s present in family, friends, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, passersby, me, you, everyone. It’s the easy, simple, convenient associations you make between physical makeup and moral behavior to relieve stress, put your mind at ease, make decisions faster, and do the job better. It’s what you feel when you encounter the unfamiliar, when someone argues a viewpoint that you think is watertight. It’s what you shrug off with pathetic excuses, clichéd justifications, kneejerk defense mechanisms, urgent downplaying. It’s a cover for weakness, ambivalence, cowardice, and pain. It’s mostly another way in which humans err.

Last month, the United Kingdom—goaded and brainwashed by far-right, anti-immigration sentiment—voted, in a referendum, to leave the European Union, and in the media, I noticed a slight but significant semantic change accompanying that paradigm shift. Before the vote, it was referred to as “Brexit,” a portmanteau for “Britain’s [then hypothetical] exit”—a savvy new word, a peculiar code, a disyllabic soundbyte that grew more ambiguous and rolled off the tongue easier when the X in exit was altered from [gz] to [ks], a decision that belonged uniquely to Britain and that was Britain’s to make, almost a hip get-out-the-vote command (“Brex it, baby!”) Now, more and more, it is “the Brexit,” as in something that could well be short for “the [voter-approved] British exit”—official, political, dead serious, no longer a potential but a concrete reality, a force to be reckoned with, a choice made and settled, with repercussions far out of Britain’s or anyone else’s control. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the [gz] sound coming back a little in that phrasing, leaving little doubt as to what it is and represents. Even the men behind the Leave campaign—UKIP head Nigel Farage and London ex-mayor Boris Johnson—were so intimidated by the fact of their success, they chickened out of responsibility for it and have now retreated from the Prime Minister-ship. Meaning: they are con men, and their campaign was a shameless ploy, done for money, publicity and provocation, damn the consequences that their nation has to face because of it. Here in the United States, there’s an obvious parallel—more on that in a New York minute.

The Brexit vote seems to have been merely the inception of a long, hot, traumatic summer in what is already one of the ugliest years in recent memory for the world at large, let alone for the West. I can’t name the last day that hasn’t gone by without the news reporting a death toll of some scale. In the time I have been drafting this essay, I have read about a fit of road rage-cum-terrorist attack in Nice—on Bastille Day!—that has killed over eighty; a half-assed coup attempt in Istanbul that has claimed hundreds and that might have produced a military junta far more repressive than Erdogan; and the assassination of three cops in Baton Rouge, likely a retaliation for the murder of Alton Sterling, and an echo of a sniper shooting that downed five cops in Dallas. Battle lines are falling between civilian and state, left and right, centrist and extremist, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, racism and color, Islamism and “infidel”. Those interested in peace are confined to venting their rage on social media, too raw to know how to react otherwise, too numb and unsurprised to figure out a solution. Those interested in prolonging, intensifying and profiting from all the conflict are winning, and the media—maybe unwittingly, maybe deliberately—are fanning their flames for all the sensation they can report.


Since Brexit, through this summer, I’ve been thinking much about a British indie film called This Is England, made a decade ago, set during the Thatcher years, and only growing more relevant. It’s about a disaffected adolescent from Sheffield, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who lost his father in the Falklands War, and who falls in by chance with a crew of skinheads. Fact, little known to Americans: the skinheads, at least in the British sense, were originally punks who—besides being bald—bonded based on a mutual interest in Caribbean music and New Wave fashion, and whose time was spent apolitically goofing off. Not kidding. Look it up. Shaun comes of age, finds his niche in the crew, and rebels against his frazzled mother in doing so. Then, one Combo (Stephen Graham) is released from prison, reunites with the gang, and uses them as a captive audience to his homilies on England belonging to the English, the welfare state fucking everything up, and the “Paki bastards” hoarding the place. Combo’s rival, Woody (Joseph Gilgun), is a sweet, caring guy, and his charms are what initially draws Shaun in and returns peace and joy into his life—but like too many sweet, caring guys, he lacks Combo’s charisma and psychological acuity and can only watch as Combo exploits the Falklands War to manipulate Shaun and a few others into siding with him. This of course is a microcosm of how the skinheads transitioned into what we think of them as today—namely, fascist-populist goons.

Combo takes Shaun and his protégés to a lodge in a clearing, where a nationalist politico running for office is speaking. He acknowledges that he and his fellow skinheads have been accused of racism. “We’re not racist!” he insists. Ah, but they are racist. Language is ultimately objective; otherwise, it would be too easy for people to excuse themselves for their racial insensitivity by contriving the definition of racism so that it doesn’t include and implicate their actions. On the contrary, too often and too easily, that is exactly what people try to do and what we let people do—because of course, most of us would not like to be labeled racist. (Look at how George W. Bush and his neocon cronies absolve themselves of war crimes just by narrowing the definition of torture to exclude waterboarding—a totally wrong shaggy-dog semantic corruption.) And that is why racial profiling is depicted as an efficient way to manage and discourage crime, when it is really textbook racism because it assumes certain demographics are disposed to crime and does not account for—nor aim to alleviate—the socioeconomic forces that breed crime as a way of life, some of which are reinforced by the state purposely to maintain a racial hierarchy. That is also why immigrants to the U.K. (and the U.S., etc.) who try to bring along their cultural spheres, often including their native tongues, and who don’t assimilate to the liking of the dominant race—regardless of whether they are citizens or not—face demonization, mostly from the right wing. This is racism, beyond dispute. It insists that there is nothing of value worth learning from foreign cultures.

If This Is England has a flaw—besides the abrupt ending—it’s that there’s no developed alternative perspective from any of the Indian and Pakistani persons who become the targets of Combo’s curry-themed verbal and physical taunts, which Shaun imitates and is thus complicit in. It does, however, throw an ambivalence into the proceedings with the presence of a Black proto-skinhead, Milky (Andrew Shim), who provides a conduit to Woody and company’s appreciation of reggae and ska, and who Combo admires because he claims he is English despite his Jamaican heritage—and because he sells Combo pot. Well, really, Combo’s attitude towards Milky is contingent on what shade of Milky’s cultural identity is showing at a given moment. It is obvious that his multiculturalism makes him more well-rounded than Combo will ever be, and Combo knows this, and his envy leads the film to a devastating, powerful climax. The film thus debunks the idea of “having Black friends” as proof that one is not racist. If your attitude towards minorities is conditional in any way, then you’re being racist. The film’s take on race and immigration is thus very postmodern and makes it essential viewing for anyone wondering how racism and friendly associations with people of color can exist in the same person, and how we are all liable to be wrestling with both. The director, Shane Meadows, has continued to follow these characters in three TV miniseries that span through Thatcher’s odious reign; I aim to watch them.

There are those who seek to make society as great as it can be for everyone given the resources, and there are those who are more impelled to compete against one another for a bigger slice. William James’ immortal essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” is instructive in this regard. Man is inclined towards competition; when not offered the diversions of sport, meritocracy and debate, he is more prone to getting suckered into going to war for the petty whims of the ruling class and the military-industrial complex. For the most loathsome of poor sportsmen, it isn’t enough that they win—their opponents must lose, lose badly, and suffer in the process. This entails the lowest among us picking fights with others based on race, sex, sexuality, gender, class, religion, ability, you name it. And so civilization is structured into suffocating hierarchies, and every time those below jostle for a fair share, those on top grow disturbed—spoiled as they are, their equilibrium is thrown off by any notion of societal equality and equity—and they suppress those below to restore homeostasis to themselves. Let it thus be said for the record that if you’re a white, elderly/middle-aged, cisgender, heterosexual, upper/middle-class, neurotypical man who feels the most discriminated-against because of the various social movements struggling for the rights of women, Blacks, Latin@s, indigenous tribes, LGBTQIA persons, youths, autists and Aspies—you’re being a bigot. Sorry, but you are. The protestors you see on media are fighting to survive in ways you’ve never had to do because you’re lucky. One argument in favor of keeping Blacks enslaved before the Civil War was an insane phobia of White enslavement by Blacks. So you see, pro-slavery Whites were aware of the trauma of the system they were perpetrating, but they kept perpetrating it because capitalist doctrine convinced them that they and the Blacks were locked in a zero-sum game, and racial coexistence was a myth.


That’s the horn that Donald Trump is tooting. If This Is England and Brexit show a trend of English nativists fighting for a monopoly over what England is and what it ought to be—a monopoly in which foreign points-of-view mean less than jackshit—then Trump and his lemmings have thrived on a fantasy of an ideal America defined and bleached to their uncompromising preferences. “Make America Great Again,” they say, meaning that there was a time when America was great, after which we lost our way—but when? The Reagan years? The postwar era? The Roaring Twenties? The Gilded Age? No one’s bothered to specify. All I know is that Trump is looking to the past, going backwards, and reversing progress to the point where straight old wealthy white Protestant men reign supreme once again. Mexican immigrants? Trump wants them to become not just American citizens but Americans, just as Milky is only any good in Combo’s eyes when he’s English. Whoever doesn’t abide gets deported. The same will go for Muslim immigrants, whenever Trump plans to allow them in (as if). This is racism, objectively. I didn’t think such racism had any appeal anymore. I thought Trump’s campaign would crash and burn in record time. Alas—Trump has developed a terrifying ethos. Everything said about him, good and bad, seems to benefit him. Every iota of media attention gratifies him. Those who have voted and plan to vote for him show a streak of nihilism and hedonism. They don’t care about building a better nation. They care about winning, about beating the folks they hate—the more destruction, the better. It’s all a reality TV contest to them. They’d just as soon vote Kim Kardashian’s callypgous body into the Oval Office.

Maybe you, reader, are a Trump supporter and would like to insist you’re different. Maybe you lucked out of a job because of cheap labor. Maybe you’re genuinely anti-establishment, anti-incumbent, and think that the media at large want to uphold a status quo and rail against Trump out of panic. Maybe you just don’t like being “politically correct”. I understand. And because I’m committed to bettering society and promoting equality and equal opportunity—and not to competition for its own sake—I’ll reach out to you. I voted for Bernie Sanders. I used to detest Hillary Clinton because I believed Juanita Broaddrick when she said that Bill Clinton raped her and Hillary tried to threaten her into silence. I have written as much on this blog. I believe rape survivors as a matter of principle. As it turns out, Broaddrick has endorsed Trump—never mind his track record of gross misogyny, and the fact that he himself has faced down his own sexual misconduct accusations (which I believe). She has also allied herself with Kathleen Willey, a fellow Bill accuser and discredited conspiracy theorist who has implied that Bill arranged for her husband to be murdered on the same day of her alleged assault, and that Vince Foster was murdered. Not to mention, her Twitter feed has become a scroll of recurring, glib anti-Clinton potshots—trivial memes and such.

Individually, these might be lapses of poor judgment; together—along with the multiple issues of Broaddrick’s account (she doesn’t remember the date, she’s been inconsistent on whether Hillary or anyone threatened her, her witnesses have a conflict of interest, et al.)—they add up. One thought I’ve had is that maybe she consented after Bill gave her the old line about how mumps made him sterile, and then heard about Chelsea’s birth a couple years later and felt deceived—but why wouldn’t she clarify that? Where are her standards? Even if I never know what really happened (I won’t), this is something I feel I need to get right. If I say Bill Clinton is a rapist and I’m wrong, I falsely accuse an innocent and insult genuine rape survivors. If I say Juanita Broaddrick was not raped and she was, I deepen her trauma. I’m fucked either way. Right now, I’m going to trust my instincts. It is worth repeating the cliché that the medium is the message. Broaddrick isn’t airing her message through a feminist-activist lens; she’s doing so through the media of puerile right-wing Clinton-bashing, which toys with the truth to get Republicans voted into office where they can push a bluntly anti-feminist agenda. The case for Bill Clinton being a rapist and Hillary being an enabler is very doubtful, to say the least. Anything I have stated in the past to the effect of otherwise, I hereby rescind.

Hillary Clinton Campigns In Iowa, Meeting With Small Business Owners

What I’m trying to say is: I’ve changed. In an election cycle dominated by proud voters who claim their minds are made up, who grow more stubborn with each reasonable rebuttal to their positions, I—a fervent pseudo-socialist Sandernista—have warmed up to someone I once sneered at for being a pro-fracking, pro-TPP Wall Street sympathizer with ties to Henry Kissinger and Jeffrey Epstein. So just maybe, you could change, too. Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. Pick pragmatism over tenacity. Listen to all the viewpoints. Be humble, realize where you might be and have been wrong, and admit it. Be willing to ask questions and have reservations, but don’t expect the politicians you vote for to be perfect and align with you on everything. That said, the question remains: would a vote for Hillary make me complicit in the missteps of her presidential term, or would it make me a stakeholder in her presidency who is more entitled to criticize her for stuff such as her reaction to the 2009 coup in Honduras than someone who sat out the vote? It’s up for debate. Here’s the bottom line, though: I want the Supreme Court to go left. I want Citizens United overturned, and I want to keep abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action, the right to privacy and public unions safe for the next generation. I want to see legislation on climate change and gun control passed, I want college to be affordable, and I want a leader who doesn’t rely on the superficial appeal of charisma to win over constituents—in that way, Hillary Clinton’s lack of charisma turns out to be arguably her best asset.

Face it, ‘Merica: most of the attacks on Clinton are either misogynistic boilerplate or hypocritical. Benghazi? She showed clear contrition for her negligence when that happened, and the late Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’ family (not unlike Vince Foster’s family) has stated that they do not want his death politicized. And yet, she can’t catch a break from the fear-mongering party that exploited the trauma of 9/11—which happened on their watch, after some very clear warnings—to create phantom WMDs and get national support for a half-assed vigilante coup in Iraq that destabilized the Middle East, worsened anti-American sentiment everywhere, and led directly to the rise of the Islamic State. Her emails? FBI director James Comey has admitted that his strong words against her were politically incentivized (read: dishonest). Bill’s infidelities? Folks, I am fairly certain that Hillary and Chelsea have taken him to task for that behind closed doors. The way things stand now, I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. If anything goes wrong, I reserve my right to tell my fellow Democrats that they should’ve voted for Sanders. (I don’t mean to perpetrate the thought that this election is a two-party either-or decision. Jill Stein is great, and I actually agree with Gary Johnson on quite a few things. In a two-party system, the success of third parties depends on the classic game theory debacle of whether enough people plan to vote for a third party to make it worth risking your vote on said third party. Polarized as the nation is right now, I myself am not counting on it. If the Libertarian Party takes away enough votes from Trump, I’ll applaud them for it.) I no longer think that four years of Hillary Clinton would be unlivable; her staffers have given her universal praise and are baffled by the negative media perception of her. I will never not think that a Trump presidency would cause unmitigated global catastrophe. Alas, I’m confident Clinton will prevail. That doesn’t mean we as voters should be complacent, though. The threat of Trump is concrete, and he has already badly damaged the nation’s fabric and reputation.

I condemn Donald Trump entirely. I condemn his blatant disregard for the First Amendment guarantees of free speech, a free press, and freedom of religion that are what truly make America great, if anything. I condemn his stated intent to commit war crimes such as killing the families of terrorists, regardless of their innocence. I condemn his propagation of conspiracy theories such as “Obama was born in Kenya” and “vaccines cause autism.” I condemn his intelligence-insulting lies, his incessant positional flip-flopping, his constant dodging of valid inquiries, and his evasion of personal responsibility. I condemn his emboldening of anti-Semites, the Ku Klux Klan, and other figures in the insidious alt-right, whom he has refused to disavow likely because he perceives them as a valuable voter bloc. I condemn his misogyny, his bigotry, his glibness, his incompetence, his confidence schemes, his abusive business and legal practices, his narcissism, and his cult of personality. I condemn that he has singlehandedly brought to the U.S. the same dangers the far-right has presented to the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Scandinavia, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Israel, and the Philippines. I condemn his call for a clash of civilizations, and for greater arms in anticipation of them. I condemn his noncommittal attitude and the implications he’s given off that it’s all a long con and he’s planning to forfeit his presidency and leave us stranded with lousy Hoosier Mike Pence should he win. More than anything, I condemn the culture of anti-intellectualism that he promotes and thrives on.

Trump supporters: how do you dare take pride in gaslighting and not caring about facts as a way of defending yourselves from being proven wrong? Please just take one minute to ask yourselves: do you really think that undocumented immigrants are the one thing preventing you from getting hired? If a minority becomes your coworker, what is it going to take for you to believe that (s)he got to your level on merit and not on affirmative action? Are you voting anti-establishment for its own sake? How does “Black Lives Matter” translate into “Only Black Lives Matter”? How can you say that Trump isn’t talking about all Mexicans and Muslims—or even Mexicans and Muslims in general—and that Quentin Tarantino is talking about all cops when he says, “I must call a murderer a murderer”? When you say the ends justify the means, have you failed to acknowledge those who have been traumatized by the means? And do you really think that political correctness is a magic wand that licenses you to say racist things while excusing yourself from accusations of racism, or to support racist policies under the conviction that what’s easy is what’s right and the-ends-justify-the-means? Freedom of speech, like all freedoms, comes with responsibility. Language is powerful, it can harm, and you are responsible for your use of it, not least because language can become law—what is law but language?—and law has severe impact. When people grieve over a family getting slaughtered because a relative of theirs joined the Islamic State, through no fault of their own, will you dare blame them for being too politically correct?

If this essay convinces merely one person to not vote for Trump, I will consider it a success.

Brexit, Skinheads, Clinton v. Trump, and the Crappiest Ongoing News Cycle in a Long Time

Review: “Straight Outta Compton”

Much of the gangsta rap music of N.W.A is a raw explosion of pure id: five men from L.A. manifesting their crude vigilante fantasies—stoked no doubt by institutional racism and socioeconomic stigma—into pulsing beats and street-smart poetry. This puts the rap super-group firmly in a tradition begun two generations prior by Richard Wright, whose novel Native Son sees an uneducated young Black man, Bigger Thomas, accidentally kill a white woman, Mary Dalton, in a moment of race-induced panic. He could try to defend himself, as if that would’ve helped him in the time and place (late-‘30s Chicago), but he doesn’t. Instead, he covers up his deed, frames Mary’s disappearance on another, flees when the ruse is up, and—in the novel’s most controversial moment—slaughters his Black girlfriend, Bessie, when she becomes a burden. In taking responsibility for Mary’s death, he proceeds to flesh out the paranoid white-racist fear of the Black man retaliating against his oppression in ways increasingly cunning and malevolent—and indeed, in these circumstances, that is what Bigger feels he must do to survive. Thus, through Bigger, Wright gave American literature its most defining expression of id. To act violently is an extreme measure, but to think violently—nay, to envision oneself committing violence—is, I imagine, a natural human tendency, to which we may not often admit. The power of works of art like Native Son and N.W.A’s music lies not just in how they bluntly identify our darkest temptations. More so, it lies in how they epitomize art as an act by which we may channel our id in a productive, nonviolent way.

“How is such music productive?” one might ask. “Wouldn’t it give Blacks a bad image by confirming those white-racist fears you mention—by giving those racists, hand over fist, the means by which they justify their bigotry?” It would not be appropriate to say so. Recall Roger Ebert’s famous statement regarding Justin Lin’s film Better Luck Tomorrow: “Nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers: ‘How could you do this to “your people”?’” No artist should be obligated to please or satisfy everyone, especially not at the expense of accuracy. Ensuring racial equality and respect for people of color means allowing them to depict themselves however they want, in ways beyond such narrow parameters as race, sex, class, etc. It means not pooh-poohing them into pandering to the moderate sensibility of perceiving everything in a positive, cheerily optimistic light, and it means not cramming characters of color into stock archetypes that are built to prove that people of color are people after all, and may even be good people at that—as if anyone ever needed such proof. (Whoever does is truly pathetic.) Bigots, in the meantime, will seek any excuse to vindicate their wrongheaded beliefs—and anything, much less any work of art, no matter how well intentioned, can be manipulated and distorted to achieve those horrific ends. Look at how much catastrophe has been blamed on the Bible. Dare I add, it would be even more unconscionable to call N.W.A’s music evidence of “racist self-hatred.” Those men were not ashamed to be Black, nor ashamed to be gangsta rappers if not gangstas, much less did they let the culture they grew up in sucker them into being so ashamed. I’m convinced they were proud of who they were.

These thoughts and more went through my mind as I was watching Straight Outta Compton, which covers the decade (1986-95) in which N.W.A formed, rose, splintered into solo projects, bickered, made up, and faced challenge and tragedy. I’m not into rap—my preferred music genres are classical, prog and alt rock, and electronica—but Compton got me interested in it, and I feel it serves as a strong primer for novices coming in with no knowledge of the subject. The film opens with tight introductions to the group’s three critical members, in their hardscrabble days before fame. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright is seen trying to pull off a drug deal. When his ego gets in the way, an LAPD ambush gives him time to escape—the smiley-face on the police tank’s battering ram is the first of the film’s many startling quotidian touches. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, a disc jockey, gets the most hackneyed overture. Dousing himself in beats in his bedroom, he gets a wake-up call when his mother scolds him for missing a job interview and lectures him on how he needs to swallow his pride and forgo music if he wants to make a living. That got me worried. That worry was dispelled, thankfully, in the scene after when O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, writing rhymes in a marble journal, witnesses a Crenshaw Mafiosi hold up a school bus to give his naïve peers a taste of the gangsta life they so idolize, yet know next to nothing about. This scene, I take it, will come as a shock to those unfamiliar with the time and place. It is essentially a hostage situation, and it makes clear that what these young men proceed to rap about, they have direct experience with.

No need to rehash the history; the film outlines it very well. The three coalesce with Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby and Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson, pop out their first single “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” and get the attention of manager Jerry Heller. It’s a new breed of music, and it’s not for everyone, but Heller sees it stir crowds and recognizes its innovation, and that to him means money. The film does not sugarcoat the controversy of the lyrics; the charges of misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, violence against police, etc., are not invalid. (What the film leaves out about the more immediate ways in which the men objectified women in real life, we can assume.) It may thus strike more P.C. viewers as ironic that such content did not diminish N.W.A’s popularity among concertgoers, in particular among women. But it is not ironic at all because N.W.A’s fans understood what they were about: brutal honesty, releasing stress, fully taking advantage of the First Amendment. They didn’t have to present themselves as likable or agreeable because sometimes, they just weren’t. They wanted to fight urban injustice and give a voice to the oppressed, and often, that involved embracing their egos and removing their filters. Their music was never really meant for the privileged, nor for the sensitive, and that makes it stronger; there were no audience expectations to indulge. Why does the FBI send them a gag order? Why do Detroit police try to ban them from performing “Fuck tha Police”—which one cop terms “F. the Police”—in concert? These bodies accuse the group of trying to incite riots, but they know as well as their fans do that they’re not doing that at all; they rap, in part, as an alternative to riot, as an escape from the violence of Compton. What the FBI and the police are concerned about, I believe, is that these men are challenging their power, which they reassert through censorship. N.W.A knows this, and exploits it ingeniously.

There’s plenty of history to cover in these two and a half hours—the murder of Dre’s brother, Heller’s financial antics, Cube’s early departure and the ensuing dissing match, the Rodney King fiasco, Dre’s move to Suge Knight’s Death Row Records, Knight’s thuggish antics, Dre’s mentoring of Snoop Dogg and Tupac, Eazy-E’s ugly fate, etc. The film has rightly been accused of rushing and cramming, and of playing with facts and sidelining women. (Dre and Cube were producers—a curious conflict of interest, to some.) The way I see it, its breadth and ambition give it the feel of an epic rap anthology, complete with inserts, homages, name-dropping, masculinity to a fault, political bravado, egotistical one-upmanship, and a paradoxical notion of fragmented vignettes linked together to create a fluid, logical arc. This is not just appropriate. Even if unintended, it is a novel approach to the cinematic form—a depiction of rap history using the structures of rap, fraught with commentary on the effect of media on history and our daily lives. Not to mention, the performances are terrific. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. pulls no punches playing his father, and his casting is far from nepotism. Witness the scene in which he trashes the Priority Records office with a baseball bat over an advance dispute, and the later moments when he is softened by fame, fatherhood and a film career. (An early mentor of his was F. Gary Gray, a clever choice to direct this film.) Corey Hawkins, as Dre, captures a similarly wide transition from naïveté to moral confrontation, culminating in a climactic choice to abandon Death Row for good. Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown, Jr. make strong impressions as Ren and Yella despite limited screen time; Paul Giamatti perfectly negotiates Heller’s esteem for N.W.A’s music with his insidious money grubbing; stuntman R. Marcos Taylor, as Knight, switches from tenderness to brute menace on a dime. Best in show is Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, the baitiest role, played with boyish simplicity and not a shred of sentiment.

Compton made me wonder: have we really come that far? Even with Obama, has much changed at all? The scenes of racial profiling—of cops making impulsive decisions based on dumb, lazy associations between race and predilection for crime—feel fresh, and they’re not without a contemporary, if avant la lettre, veneer of classism. (Exhibit A: the Black cop who disagrees with Heller on whether rap is art.) Speaking as a white man who can admit he has made some stupid comments about race in his lifetime and who has thus written this review with care—if we want to make America as free and equal as it aims to be, we all have to contribute to stop these systemic issues. Slogans and soundbytes have always struck me as unreliably incomplete. In that sense, I do not feel it is enough to say that Black Lives Matter. What we must say is: Black Identities Matter. People of color have the right not just to live and live in peace, but to thrive, to enjoy life, to fulfill their goals, to speak loud, to be listened to, heard and understood. In art and narrative, we have a duty to give them representation and depict them faithfully. American cinema today is neglecting that duty. Straight Outta Compton is a move in the right direction in that regard, and it is much more than that: flaws and all, it is a bracing, innovative portrait of a quantum shift in music history, juggling searing character studies and provocative moral dilemmas. The scenes and songs hit hard, and weeks after watching this film, they are still looping in my head.

Grade: A

In memory of Sandra Bland, Raynette Turner, Alison Parker, Adam Ward, and all others.

Review: “Straight Outta Compton”