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Thursday, April 6, 2017

ALL EYEZ ON ME Trailer and the Resurgence of Hip-Hop Cinema

Back in the '90s, filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee were at the top of their games, bringing African-American narratives to the forefront and on the big screen, making big bucks at the box office and raising the profiles of actors like Morris Chestnut, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ving Rhames (to name a few). But something else they did is simultaneously use hip-hop to help tell these stories—creating a soundtrack for the cinematic era, catapulting to the top of the billboard charts, and helping amplify the music genre's storytelling abilities. Then they virtually faded out of the forefront. At which point, we began to see white filmmakers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, adding hip-hop tracks to their soundtracks still to this day—too often reducing the hip-hop narrative to portray debauchery, proving their tone deaf relationship with it.

But, I digress. 

I say this all to say that there is a very distinct, very urgent yet timeless narrative in hip-hop, when done and used correctly. We've seen it most recently with F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton. And rapper/actor Tupac Shakur was right on the pulse of it up until his death in 1996 at age 25. He remains one of the most important voices in hip-hop today, memorialized with this week's announcement of his upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while also proving his acting chops in films including Singleton's Poetic Justice (1993) and Ernest Dickerson's Juice (1992). But even though it was assumed his life was an open book told through his lyrics, and his death has been the subject of much discussion and even debate, there is still much to know about him and especially his mother Afeni Shakur (1947-2016), who was a member of the Black Liberation Army. 

Which is why the new film ALL EYEZ ON ME comes right on time. Directed by Benny Boom (Next Day Air, TV's Empire), the biopic follows the rapper's rise to fame, his activism, his pitfalls, and his untimely death. More in the synopsis:

ALL EYEZ ON ME tells the true and untold story of prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur. The film follows Shakur from his early days in New York City to his evolution into being one of the world’s most recognized and influential voices before his untimely death at the age of 25. Against all odds, Shakur’s raw talent, powerful lyrics and revolutionary mind-set propelled him into becoming a cultural icon whose legacy continues to grow long after his passing.

While I can't really vouch for Boom's previous work, the trailer for this looks really good, and so does its cast. It's even got two actresses from The Walking Dead in it; Danai Gurira plays Afeni Shakur and Lauren Cohan plays Leila Steinberg, Tupac Shakur's artist mentor. And Demetrius Shipp Jr. plays the spitting-image version of Tupac (like, uncanny). I really, really hope this is good as there are many different ways to approach his story and various narratives to explore. Done well, it would be phenomenal. Watch the trailer and let me know what you think:

ALL EYEZ ON ME is in theaters June 16. 


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