After nearly a decade, All Eyez on Me, the long-delayed biopic of Tupac Shakur, is finally coming to fruition, with veteran music-video director Benny “Boom” Douglas at the helm. Boom, 44, is the film’s third director, after the departures of Carl Franklin and then John Singleton. He came onboard at the end of November 2015 and wasted little time: Filming began in December with an eye on a September release to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the rapper’s murder. It’s a great time for another rap flick, of course. In August 2015, the N.W.A film Straight Outta Compton — which featured Marcc Rose as Shakur — became the highest-grossing music biopic ever. “Straight Outta Compton kicked open the door for us,” says Boom. “It let us know we can make our film the way we want to.” In his first in-depth interview in 2016 and just shy of the 20th anniversary of Shakur’s diamond-certified album of the same name on Feb. 13, the director reveals seven details about All Eyez on Me — all ones that will make any 2Pac fan smile.
1. The film Goes Cradle To Grave — And Beyond
Tupac lived 25 tumultuous years, and rather than focusing on one period of his life, Boom plans to include as much as possible. “We’re starting from before he was born,” he says. “His parents were Black Panthers. You see the struggles of his youth, his relationship with his mother, father figures that were in and out of his life, and what he developed into as a man from that. It humanizes him.”
2. The Story Will Not Be Sanitized
Straight Outta Compton came under fire for omitting Dr. Dre‘s alleged assaults of journalist Dee Barnes and others, and Shakur had his own troubles with violence against women, having been convicted of sexual abuse in 1995. Boom says All Eyez on Me won’t shy away from them. “That’s a big part of his story, because [that conviction] completely changed his life. We don’t sugarcoat things.”
3. The Film Gets “Revolutionary”
Shakur is arguably the most revered rapper of all time, and his outspoken views on racial injustice are a big reason why. “[Racism] is a vicious cycle, and Tupac was a victim of that; he witnessed police brutality,” says Boom. “It’s not just a biopic about a musician: It’s about a revolutionary. It’s the story of a martyr, someone who died for his cause.”
4. It’s Not All About the Beef
Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were the nexuses of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars of the 1990s, but Boom says the movie doesn’t take sides. “Our film is about truth — it’s not about anybody’s side of the story. These were young guys acting irrationally, but hadn’t walked in manhood long enough to understand how to deal with situations. They had armies around them to hype them up. It’s a cautionary tale.”
5. Don’t Believe The Haters
After Singleton left the film in April 2015, he criticized the producers for not being “respectful” of Shakur’s legacy. Boom refutes that assertion. “It’s America — you can say anything you want, but that doesn’t make it true,” he says, citing family members and friends of Shakur who have given the film their blessing — including Naughty by Nature‘s Treach, who Boom says “shed a tear” when he visited the set. “I wouldn’t be involved if the respect wasn’t paid. This is an icon of our generation, and I’m here to tell his story.”
6. Lead Actor Demetrius Shipp, Jr. Has a Deep Connection to ‘Pac
Demetrius Shipp, Jr., cast as Tupac in the film, may be an unknown actor to most, but his connection to the rapper extends back to his childhood; his father, Demetrius Shipp, Sr. was a producer who worked on ’Pac’s “Toss It Up.” “The timing was so right,” Boom says about Shipp, Jr. “It’s almost like when Jamie Foxx played Ray; you can’t really think of anybody else now in your mind who could have played Ray Charles.”
7. Expect Plenty of Rappers To Be Involved — Just Not On Screen
Boom wants ’Pac’s peers and successors to feel free to contribute, but other rappers’ involvement will largely be limited to the soundtrack. “Rick Ross came to the set yesterday and said, ‘Do I need to go make a song right now?’ Boom recalls. “People just want to be a part of the movie.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of Billboard.