If there is one emotion that everyone can equally feel from watching the Benny Boom-directed Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me, it’s anger. Anger derived from various reasons — from poor film execution to residual trauma stemming from Pac’s murder and a dearth of facts surrounding both. Any anger here is equally justified.
Over the last four years, we’ve witnessed an uptick in biopics stemming from the lives of hip-hop and R&B stars. The assumption was that the floodgates would have opened around 2009, when the Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious arrived. However, given the extent of the critical backlash from those who actually lived through that era, the general consensus was that the approach to documenting lives within “urban” music was considerably half-baked and brought back to the drawing board. In 2013, VH1’s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story gave new hope to the televised hip-hop/R&B biopic, yet Lifetime’s assembly line of poorly produced and casted biopics — that included the cringe-worthy Aaliyah and Whitney Houston ones — knocked that dream down a few pegs. Conversely, BET’s masterfully executed TV biopic series The New Edition Story garnered massive praise along with Hollywood’s critically acclaimed N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton.
For nearly a decade, there had been talks over the possibility of a Tupac Shakur biopic. Pac was perhaps hip-hop’s most enigmatic figure — both alive and posthumously. While both his and the Notorious B.I.G.’s deaths still remain unsolved, Tupac’s holds considerably more weight. A handful of the population still believes he’s alive, given the amount of material still being released from his catalog and the Machiavellian theories he presented right before his death. Placing a camera anywhere near Pac’s life would be open season for considerable dissection. The open-endedness of that tale was enough to demand a graduated level of research to tie up the accessible loose ends.
However, the interpretation of Tupac’s life in All Eyez On Me left many bewildered. A 22 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes punctuates that sentiment, with artists like 50 Cent calling the film “trash.” Meanwhile Pac tattoo-bearing artist The Game defended the film on Instagram, posting a captioned review: “#AllEyezOnMe SUPPORT it. Go see it. Tell a friend. I love the movie & ANYBODY with a negative review of this film or anything bad to say about PAC….. I’m gone say it since he can’t….. F–K YOU #ThugLife #RIP2Pac #RIPAfeni #CaliforniaLove.” MC Hammer also retorted against the backlash, calling the film a “truthful portrayal.” The Internet rap cognoscenti is divided on the subject: half attack the accuracy of the film, the other half praise that we even made it this far after many false starts in the forming of a Tupac biopic.
Both sides are not incorrect. All Eyez On Me is monumental for even being created. Sure, so was Straight Outta Compton — considering a blockbuster film was made about the leaders of Gangster Rap — but it was crafted by two men still alive to assist in the narrative (Ice Cube and Dr. Dre). Tupac died at the age of 25, two years shy of the 27 Club, yet lived many lives during those two and a half decades. For that reason, All Eyez On Me had to jam-pack significant moments into two hours and twenty minutes. Needless to say, some important points were missed.
Leading man Demetrius Shipp, Jr., in many parts, was a dead ringer for Tupac, especially in the scenes filmed around Pac’s final year of life. The recreation of music videos like “I Get Around” and “Brenda’s Got A Baby” were accurately executed, along with Pac’s Digital Underground era. The bond between Tupac and his mother Afeni Shakur (played by Danai Gurira) was highlighted, and while many presumed they were tight from songs like “Dear Mama,” watching it unfold visually was powerful. The mention that Tupac’s godmother was Assata Shakur was a valuable punctuation, especially given Assata’s current role in the social consciousness of America and the #HandsOffAssata movement. Also Hill Harper’s role as the journalist who interviews ‘Pac for his historical prison video series was solid, moreso because Hill Harper is an actual writer. These are just a few of the bright points in the film.
The knee-jerk criticisms of the film are derived from the poorly crafted script in tandem with the goofily executed pivotal scenes like Tupac dancing with his mother at a family barbecue following her release from rehab, right down to him laying on the pavement apparently taking his last breath (concrete facts tell us he died seven days following his shooting… in a hospital).
Key moments in Tupac’s life were also missing. The infamous spitting into a reporter’s camera while wearing the Detroit Red Wings jersey was left out of the film, despite being the archetypal reference point for ‘Pac’s bada–ness (along with his equally infamous middle finger from his wheelchair after being shot at Quad Studios and following his rape trial — included in the film). While the movie showed Tupac filming Juice, Above The Rim, and Gridlock’d, his largest role as Lucky in Poetic Justice was not included, perhaps as subtle shade toward director John Singleton, who was set to direct All Eyez On Me before Boom. There was also a brief mention of ‘Pac losing the role of Shariff in Menace II Society, yet the altercation with the Hughes brothers was nowhere to be found. In promo shots for the film, the notorious photo of Faith Evans posing with Tupac shows Evans holding up a West Side hand gesture, which was incorrect. Thankfully, it was changed for the film, yet the scene where ‘Pac meets Faith is reenacted like they were friends for years. Faith Evans has gone on record as saying that was the first night she met Tupac, introduced by Treach (who is not even given a real role in the film). While there is an interview with Angie Martinez (played by Lian Amado), it’s the interview where Snoop attempts to diffuse the beef between Death Row and Bad Boy. Meanwhile, one of the greatest hip-hop moments included Angie Martinez traveling to Los Angeles to interview ‘Pac in an attempt to end the East Coast / West Coast war. That interview was nowhere to be found.
Haitian Jack, the nefarious club promoter connected to ‘Pac’s Quad Studios shooting as well as the catalyst for his rape trial, is called “Nigel” in the film (played by Cory Hardrict), leaving anyone with a cursory knowledge of both events completely confused. The same could be said for Puffy’s blip of a role (Combs is played by Stefon Washington). Jada Pinkett-Smith, played in the film by Kat Graham, has already publicly condemned the film for its glaring inaccuracies about her relationship with Tupac. (Graham later said she consulted Pinkett-Smith before the film and that she offered “nothing but support.”) However, the film pairs them together in several make-believe settings, yet couldn’t pair them in the real-life setting of ‘Pac guest starring on A Different World as Pinkett-Smith’s character Lena’s bad boy ex-boyfriend, Piccolo. Tupac’s relationship with Kidada Jones (played by Annie Ilonzeh) was understated in many ways. While the film showed Jones pleading with Tupac not to leave the hotel on the night of his fateful murder, it was barely noted that the two were engaged to be married when he died.
The character development of two vital people in ‘Pac’s life was unforgivably ill conceived. Suge Knight (played by Dominic L. Santana) is seen more as a tough mentor and not the psychological master manipulator that previous ideations of Knight have portrayed. Jamal Woolard reprises his role of the Notorious B.I.G. (carried over from Notorious), but is seemingly less invested in the role, considering the film barely highlights ‘Pac and Big’s friendship and what their falling out did to hip-hop.
The greatest issue is that both Tupac’s life and death have been laid out for 21 years like this rap fairytale with a tragic ending, and All Eyez On Me did nothing to remedy that. Despite being so deeply rooted in Shakespeare (as we learn from the film), Tupac wasn’t Othello nor was he Hamlet. He was a living, breathing man who changed the face of hip-hop with his charisma and bold subject matter. Reducing him to a character (often cartoonish) is both an insult to real-life facts and Pac’s legacy as a whole. The microscope would inevitably be focused harshly on any film adaptation of his life, but perhaps too many eyes molded this film into a questionable story and not a chronicled series of true events starring a legend who was taken from us way too soon.