All Eyez on Me: The Untold Story of Tupac Shakur (Exclusive Screening & Interview)
Originally posted on CultureFeed.co (July 2017)
All Eyez on Me: The Untold Story of Tupac Shakur (Exclusive Screening & Interview)
From the moment you lay “eyez” on Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp, Jr.), you are transported back to a time where you were still using a Discman, could call the local radio station to request your favorite song, and MTV still played videos. Not only is physical resemblance is so striking, so uncanny, you are immediately drawn into Tupac’s world because Shipp, Jr. also mastered Tupac’s mannerisms down to his demeanor. This world-wind of a biopic is a window into Shakur’s upbringing, his rise to fame, his brushes with death and the law, and the series of events that lead to the tragic murder of the gifted polymath.
Not only is this film a retelling of, arguably, one of the most important life stories in hip-hop, the cast and crew itself is an intriguing lesson in music history. Producer L.T. Hutton was a long-time friend and colleague of Tupac, having been a record producer for Death Row Records. Benny Boom, the film’s director, has been in the game since 2000 directing videos for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Akon, 50 Cent and many more, earning BET’s Video Director of the Year in 2009 and 2013. Demetrius Shipp, Jr. himself is a music producer and drummer whose own father, Demetrius Shipp, Sr., produced “Toss It Up” on Pac’s first posthumous album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.
During our roundtable discussion, Shipp, Jr. let us in on a little secret: many of the scenes between himself and the journalist played by Hill Harper--interviews from the Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995 that narrate the film--were unscripted and felt like a “chess match.” This lends itself to the authenticity and realness of the film. You truly feel that you are a part of the story as opposed to watching another documentary or reading another biography of the rapper. From scoring the leading role in Hamlet while in high school to the infamous Thug Life tattoo (which, if you didn’t know, is an acronym for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everyone"), the way you discover the details of his life flow seamlessly into the tapestry of the film--as if you were one of Tupac’s friends or family members reflecting back on his life story.
“Tupac was so prolific and so ahead of his time. You’ll leave this film having a much deeper understanding of who he was and all the layers he had, and the women in his life.” - Kat Graham
What resonates most is the biopic’s ability to zero-in on the multifaceted aspects of Tupac’s personality. Many viewed Tupac only as a “thug” or a felonious rapper--and, unfortunately, many people likely still see him this way. What I appreciated most is the fact that the film is largely chronological--we see many of the pivotal moments from his childhood and teenage years that essentially shape the person he became. From the gripping moments where his mother (Afeni Shakur played by Danai Gurira) represented herself and was acquitted of all charges as a member of the Black Panther Party, tear-jerking scenes where his childhood Christmas ends up being raided by the FBI in an attempt to locate his fugitive step-father, the intense focus on education and knowledge of the world in which he was living, and the moment his ego and anger was the catalyst to a fight which led to the death of a 6 year old at a cookout and the guilt he carried with him, you see how Tupac’s experiences shaped his personality. Added plus: the original music throughout the movie.
I asked Hutton, the one who spearheaded this project, about the intentional depiction of the different sides of Tupac’s personality, here is what he said:
L.T. Hutton: With Tupac, people have this over personification of what they thought he was. if you like sports and if you don’t watch the whole game, you can’t say how good of a game it was if you only watch the highlights. With this film, the trajectory was to give you an insight to see how he came and arrived at these certain scenarios. He didn't just walk in upset: it was things that triggered that. I often say, we criticize people for the choices they make never understanding what they had to choose from. What I wanted to do was give you an understanding of the things he has to chose from so now you can say ‘oh that was a good decision’ knowing what he had to choose from. I wanted to give you an intimate look at him so you can humanize him and understand that he was a man also; he was human. and he’s allowed to make certain mistakes. Not saying that we forgave him in the film. We see that he had to answer to everything he did whether it was good or bad, and it was important to flesh that out.
"If you love him for this reason, now you love him for even more reasons. If you didn’t know who he was, or you didn’t know the story or you heard about him, now you have an understanding of the things that you heard--a complete form." Demetrius Shipp Jr.
There was an attempt to take the Interscope Records scene out; this is what Hutton had to say about it which, in a lot of ways, is a continuation of Tupac’s legacy as an intellectual and visionary:
People are scared of educating young black children. Perception is reality; the biggest definition of perception is the vision, he who controls the perception controls the vision.They want to perceive us in a certain way. And some of the people that were supposed to be in Tupac's life. They didn’t like the fact that Tupac came across [in that scene] very intelligently, but that what it was supposed to do. That's why we’re making this movie.
The professionalism and cinematography of this film is on par with films that had/have bigger budgets and more recognizable names. The use of dramatic devices like foreshadowing (the opening scene of Tupac on stage), paradox (the idea that he wanted to “enter into someone’s world to lead them out”, a la Thug Life), dramatic irony (we all know how the movie will end), and tragedy (Tupac’s untimely death) were executed effortlessly. The incorrect perception that black film aren’t widely received by general audiences will continue to be chipped away. This feature film was clearly made for everyone: the Tupac die-hard, the kid that wasn’t even born yet, the folks outside of the culture that are the one’s driving album sales still to this day, and to those that really aren’t familiar with the story of Tupac’s life.
The women in Tupac’s life also played a pivotal role in who he became as a human.
Tupac was shot was the night before my 16th birthday. I remember holding vigil in my living room, glued to MTV, inconsolable. Update after update, I gained hope, then I’d lose a little more. 6 days later, Pac succumbed to his injuries
The film ends dramatically, the same way his life seemingly ended. L.T. said this about why he chose to end the film at the moment of his death:
“If you notice he doesn’t die in this movie. It keeps the beacon of light and the hope going. To perpetuate the stories of what happened after he dies, he’s gone, he’s not here. I wanted to leave it as a cautionary tale, this man died at 25 and that’s not a good thing--he could have been so much more. The theme I created around the film was who Tupac was who he wanted to be and who he had to be to survive the world’s that he was in. I was able to give you a full complexion of this man and his understanding of how he walked through life and how he dealt with certain things.”
“It needs to resonate to the kids in Chicago, the kids in Baltimore, the kids in the inner city in general, this game you’re playing where you take somebody's life for nothing: it’s black. There’s no coming back from that. If you’re alive you can correct your wrongs, you can do certain things; there's another resolve out there in the world--it doesn’t have to end this way, so take this as an example. Pac only wanted his life to be an example, to say do better than me. I feel like he entrusted my spirit because he knew that I was going to leave them with the same thing: a true vision of what he was and what his life meant to so many and to end it like that it’s a wake up call and i wanted it to shake you like it shook us in 1996.”
It’s vital that this film is received by all audiences because it humanizes someone that is a representative of so many young men and women in our society today. What he showed us was that there is no excuse to become a victim of our circumstances: we are meant to rise above, to reach back and lift others up, and to always be aware of what we want our legacy to be. Tupac’s legacy will live on through his music, his film roles, and, now, this movie. Don’t hesitate: get your tickets and see this movie tonight, tomorrow, and again and again!