This past weekend, social media tuned in to the premier of Lifetime‘s Michel’le Biopic Surviving Compton. I resisted the urge to get swept into the whirlwind of Facebook status updates and Twitter commentary in hopes to avoid the mixed reactions, internet memes, and spoilers. As a Hip Hop enthusiast, I had to see this biopic for myself. Let me first preface this by saying, despite this being a “tell all” from one perspective, I did not watch the movie with intention of seeking truth or fiction. Why? It’s not my judgment call. Domestic violence accusations are serious and only the parties involved know the real story. So with that said…
The movie opens up with an extremely brief look into Michel’le’s “upbringing” in Compton. I expected more character progression, but the opening scenes immediately jumped to dialogue surrounding domestic violence and images of a woman in an altercation with her boyfriend as Michel’le walked through her neighborhood. This set the tone for the film about 10 minutes in. Now fast forward to her teenage years, when she was discovered.
Michel’le seemed to be the naïve, good girl who enjoyed the spotlight as the only female around the Ruthless Records crew. Her petite frame, wholesome appearance, and powerhouse voice brought a different type of energy to the room and she makes mention of how Eazy-E and Dr. Dre were both vying for her attention after their first studio session. She eventually fell for Dr. Dre’s charm and quickly learned of all of his baggage (violent temper, alcoholism, and multiple children with multiple women) yet still remained faithful to the reckless nature of the up and coming rap producer. The film took the biggest turn when the physical abuse first began. An obviously inebriated Dr. Dre came home one night emotionally unstable, continuously punching her without warning or any alluded reasoning. I loosely tried to piece together that it may have been upon receiving the news of his brother’s passing (according to the Straight Outta Compton storyline and his inability to control his tears) but it remained a mystery…perhaps because there was no justification for the abuse at all. Like many battered women, Michel’le stayed. Although Michel’le narrated the entire film from start to finish, there were specific times that she appeared in scenes almost as if speaking to, and through her younger self. This was evident in a scene where she was looking in the mirror cleaning up her wounds, and when she decided to change her life by admitting herself into rehab.
Michel’le’s relationship with Dr. Dre appeared to be a series of back to back violent events with every graphic detail that could have been aired on cable television. Re-enactments of physical abuse at a video shoot, verbal abuse in the studio, and never ending threats brought us deeper into her internal and external turmoil. In almost every scene, Dre is filmed with a bottle of Hennessy in hand emphasizing the severity of his alcoholism. There is a particularly disturbing part in the movie where he allegedly pulled a gun on her and shot at her with their crying baby in another room. Like many women, Michel’le still stayed.
Michel’le numbed her pain through drugs and alcohol binging, even noting the time where she lost so much control that she endangered the life of their toddler son at a house party. Michel’le exposed many wounds about her relationship, even at the expense of her moments of falling short as a mother. At that moment, her pain became that much more real. Michel’le was in a black hole and needed a way out. The movie went on that way for about an hour and a half and I anxiously waited for the answer that the Hip Hop world was dying to know: how and why did Michel’le end up having children with both Dr. Dre AND Suge Knight? Turns out, Suge was her savior. He rescued her from the big bad wolf only to reveal that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing himself. She described her experience with him as being given “hell dressed in dollar bills”. In so many words, she implied that the reason she fell for Suge was because he felt “safe” and had the power to give her everything she wanted. Fair enough I guess, and understandable to a degree. She denied the lingering assumption that she was being spiteful toward Dr. Dre but again, only those involved would know.
Overall, the film was not a bad one. It was full of dramatic ups and downs just like any Lifetime movie, and exposed the untold story behind the Straight Outta Compton NWA biopic where Michel’le’s presence was noticeably missing. Although the movie had a slight Ike and Tina What’s Love Got To Do With It anecdote strung throughout the story line, it is for the most part, worth watching. Metaphorically titled, Surviving Compton chronicled her fight to make it out of her tumultuous relationship from one of Compton’s most successful billionaire musical icons. There are always two sides to every story, and I’m almost positive Michel’le felt the weight lifted from her shoulders when she finally got to share hers.