My Thoughts on Straight Outta Compton as a Resident of Compton Today

If you were actually living in Compton today, you would hardly see any trace of the mega-blockbuster that tore up the box office in its opening weekend to the tune of $122 million dollars as of its 2nd weekend in widespread release.

There isn't any big billboard that I see (at least here in the Westside).

There isn't a movie theater to watch it in unless you trek on over at least 15 minutes East along Rosecrans Blvd to the Bianchi Theater in Paramount.

I think our mayor Aja Brown has made it a point that she kinda wants to distance from the past and move on.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  I was entertained.  Full.  Stop.

But I think I set my expectations right where I thought the movie would meet them.  This means that I didn't think the movie would be that enlightening, nor that earth-shattering, nor necessarily completely progressive --- that is free of misogyny;  I was just happy it's in a context now in America where a city that would otherwise be ignored gets some cultural cache and recognition, and forms some kind of shared reference point for consumers of popular American culture.

While you won't really learn a lot about Compton from a 2-hour movie, I think the movie is most relevant to today's culture as a small piece in the conversation on police relations with communities of color. 

This movie is not an afternoon special on PBS about the city, so you'd be sorely disappointed if you were expecting to hear anything about Latinos, or about the development of the city of Compton itself.

Just as I had heard from the Watts prophets a few weeks ago, as the Straight Outta [City Name, Place Here] meme has become popular, Compton is a symbol, the name that is a stand-in and representative of the experience of being black, poor, and in a city in America.

"We wanted to put Compton on the map and now its here to say," MC Ren

There's Not Much "Actual" Compton in "Straight Outta Compton"

It seems like the NWAers are trying to say that they came at a time when their city was invisible, neglected, ignored.  They blasted a path out of that.

25 years later, their city is still kind of invisible, neglected, and ignored, but now people have some images of what they think that is, and it's mostly reliant on whatever NWA said.

What the movie showed was a history I have not experienced at all here.  It all seems tied to an era (1980s-1990s) rather than places.  You go to any urban area in LA or even parts of Orange County, whether in Eastside Long Beach or Compton, and most life-long and former residents will more or less tell you, the 1980s and 1990s were extremely crazy.  Those are the eras with all the mythical-sounding stories of how kids were beat up at bus benches in Long Beach, how to survive on my block, you basically had to run to your house. 

As a representation of the realities of the city and surrounding cities around Compton, the movie took very careful attention to aesthetic details or at least with details with which I had been familiar: from the logo of the old Metro buses, to the old LAPD cars. Growing up in LA seeing those same buses and LAPD cars again, it was enough to make me believe, "oh shit, this did happen, and they were there!"

However, there is no real sense of place in a movie with the name of a city in it.

Some guy from UCLA kinda agreed with me.  The movie's focus on the group meant that other than the opening scenes we did not see how these members interacted with community members, other than occasional run-ins with Torrance and Detroit PD.

The movie does not mention much if any of the physical geography of Compton. 

Over the years, I think we've grown accustomed to the idea in hip-hop and general American pop culture folklore that place shapes character.  A place makes you who you are, kinda points you in a direction of what you become.

We get a general sense of the drug and gang violence that surrounds them, but we don't see how Compton in particular is this place.  In one scene we see Crip gang members from "Crenshaw", which is in Inglewood, probably about 3 or 5 miles away from Compton.

Other than the opening scene where Eazy mentions "Greenleaf Blvd" and one scene at Compton Civic Center, I didn't get any idea that they were in the actual Compton but more so the symbolic Compton.

Greenleaf Blvd would mean nothing to no one other residents and/or than people paying very close attention to little details.  We don't really get any introduction to what the street is or means, it's just a reference point known to the actors in the movie, but not the actual audience, and so Greenleaf Blvd could be Main Street USA or Vermont Ave. or Crenshaw Blvd.

I had to look up Skateland (one of the first venues we see NWA performing at) after watching the movie to locate any sense of place.  The LA Times had a quick write-up of the place.

This is what Skateland looks like now (located on Central Ave. and 135th):

Jump Re-Starting the Conversation on Police Brutality

For a movie and group based on showing police brutality, the brutality and brutalizing by cops doesn't seem to actually take place in Compton aside from one incident.  They rely on their experiences in Torrance, in some incidents at a home, their experience of seeing the Rodney King video.

The main reason I say that I'm glad that the movie exists to be a part of the conversation on police relations is that I don't think that blockbusters showing police doing wrong usually do this well in the box office or on television.

I guess like the movie because the topics it brings up represent an anomaly, packed with references to real-life events of police brutality that I think the American media-consuming public has seen and been seeing for the past five or so years.

When it comes to race relations and public perceptions of the police, doing some kind of police work is always portrayed with a positive upswing.  On network television in particular, there's no shortage of cop shows portraying the complexities, emotional highs and lows of cops on network television. In the cinemas, the same thing.  In fact, the big irony is that before we even saw this movie, they stuck in a promo for Ice Cube's comedy with Kevin Hart, in which he actually portrays a cop. It seems like that was stuck in there to foil the message of the biggest takeaway from the group and group's history.

I think the biggest takeaway from the movie is essentially the conditions of the 1990s with police departments staffed largely by outsiders, coming into a community, and dictating rules on their terms rather than community-defined terms.

I'm not sure to what extent that happens anymore.  For me I haven't witnessed it happening.

As far as the actual experience of police here in Compton, the police (the LA County Sheriff's Department) have been pretty alright to me so far.  What can I say?  They come when our house alarm has gone off.  When I call about a neighbor, they've responded, so far.  They can speak Spanish, they seem like they can talk to people.  I'm not sure what the history has been with them or "Compton Sheriff's Department" (as it would have been known in the 1980-1990ss) had been, but on first glance it just seems the departments are staffed by people actually more predisposed to being from and in the community rather than outside it.

The LAPD, the overarching bureaucratic police department that oversees LA (and does NOT include the city of Compton) seems to have changed a lot from the days of Darryl Gates and his "us-against-them" mentality.  They have work to do, but still just like the Sherriff's Department it seems areas are staffed by people being from the community.

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