Film Preview: Tupac Biopic
The story of one of our generation’s most influential musicians and social activists, whose life remains filled with mystery, controversy and contempt, is gearing up for Hollywood. The life and times of rapper, actor and poet Tupac Amaru Shakur, more popularly known by his stage name “2pac,” or “Makaveli,” is set to be brought to the screen, with production dates reported to be as early as April 2011 in Los Angeles. This is an opportunity for mainstream media to set the record straight about not only the life of Shakur, but more importantly about the content of his character.
Taking on this biopic is “Training Day” (2001) director Antoine Fuqua, who announced that casting had begun and that he aims to find fresh talent for the lead role of Shakur. Screenwriters Chris Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele were hired. Having written Michael Mann’s “Ali” (2001) and Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995), they are not strangers to the biopic style. They claim, however, that the script they have began for this particular project is not, as they told New York Magazine, exactly “biopic-y.”
The film has potential to shed light to its audience not only how extraordinarily talented a performer Tupac was, but also how influential an activist he was. Racism, violence, corrupted police forces and poverty were commonplace for Shakur throughout the majority, if not the entirety of his 25-year life, and he stood up against these issues both in his music and in interviews.
“It’s all about addressing the problems that [young black males] face in everyday society,” Shakur said when asked by Davey D, a nationally recognized hip-hop journalist, what problems Shakur planned to address in his debut album, “2pacalypse Now.” Shakur continued, “Police brutality, poverty, unemployment, insufficient education, disunity and violence, black on black crime, teenage pregnancy, crack addition. Do you want me to go on?”
“If God gives me breath for 20 more years, I see myself changing the world,” Tupac said in 1996 after being asked where he sees himself in 20 years in an interview with Vibe magazine.
Songs such as “Life Goes On,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” and his mainstream hit “Changes” all have prominent activist elements, dealing with issues such as violence, women’s rights and racism. It is clear that Shakur was reaching out to people as more than a “gangster” — he was a humanitarian and an architect of change.
It’s important that the film emphasizes this side of Shakur. Many other biopics, namely “Notorious,” which chronicled the life of New York-based rap superstar Notorious B.I.G., take a far too exploitative stance on their subjects, glamorizing drug use, fame, fortune and violence.
One of the biggest struggles that Tupac faced was being caught between his public persona of “thug life” and being a gangster and his personal character, which was much more thoughtful and sensitive.
“This is the story of an artist whose character is at odds with his medium,” Rivele told *New York Magazine. “He was a really sensitive, very romantic, talented young poet who also could sing, dance and act. But the realities of the hip hop record business were that he had to create this persona of the gangster.”
“Ray” (2004), a largely successful biopic of Ray Charles, used similar internal struggles that Charles faced as basis for the film, and it functioned very well. Similar to Shakur, Charles struggled with heroine addiction as well as witnessed tragedy within his family. Instead of glorifying the drug use and ignoring the family aspect, director Taylor Hackford used these issues as catalysts for the story. A similar approach with Shakur’s internal struggles will be necessary in his biopic in order for it to be effective.
That director Fuqua’s “Training Day” deals with similar issues is hope that he will approach the life of Tupac Shakur with the right motives and handle the social complications that Shakur faced properly. In an industry where almost every major name is glamorizing drug use, violence and fortune with no regard for these social issues, Tupac was there addressing them, and that is the story that needs to be told.