Should biopics gloss over negative portrayals of their subjects or directly address situations that will be pulled up nonetheless by the mainstream media who are obsessed with click-bait journalism?
It’s a difficult thing for a disenfranchised community and culture to take on the negative portrayals of its biggest public figures. When it comes to cases of abuse and violence it should not prevent us from speaking about the larger issues that plague us as a society – having those difficult conversations and asking questions is what needs to be encouraged. It’s a choice that many people find difficult to make – whether to protect the whole community or face up to the flaws of a few individuals within and address those head on.
The accusations towards Bill Cosby as well as those that were made towards Michael Jackson years ago have all been a bitter pill to swallow and difficult to accept for some people, particularly in reflection of the enormous creative contribution of those figures to culture. While we can admire their creativity it is fundamentally important to separate and distinguish the public figure from the private person and be willing to reflect on their actions and our own reactions rather then stand in judgement. We’ve witnessed the recent war of words between Drake and Meek Mill, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and the glee of the media who generate millions of eyeballs on their platforms for every salacious detail of the individuals going through said ‘take-down’.
Some may consider the timing of Dee Barnes and Michel’le’s interviews nothing short of opportunist and choosing ‘Gawker’ in Dee’s case to air those grievances may have raised eyebrows. The account from Dee Barnes requires sensitivity but it also requires balance. Nothing can excuse or justify the ordeal that women who suffer domestic violence or sexual abuse are known to face when their stories go public. But it should also make us ask the bigger question, why are we not speaking out enough about domestic abuse from within our own communities without being afraid of being considered to be a snitch?
Dee’s account also relates to a situation which led to her being ‘blackballed’ in her industry circle and finding her career ending as a result. Often what prevents more women from openly discussing issues of abuse is the shaming that they could ensue are as a result. The music industry is notoriously sexist and Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and many other ‘pop’ icons have raised this issue repeatedly. At which point will we start to hold the enablers within this industry to account and question the culture that continues to aid and abet violence towards women? What needs to be addressed put simply – is the culture that permits abusers to ‘get away with it’ and discourages women from ‘speaking out’.
In the case of Dr Dre a civil suit was filed by Dee Barnes against Dre and was settled out of court. Dee had her day in court, Dre did not contest the charges and Dee took the financial settlement offered her at the time. Certainly right now, Dee may feel this is the only time she will get to raise the question about why the cases of abuse were not portrayed in the biopic and ask if this was an attempt to gloss over the negative elements of Dre’s past. Dee chooses to speak for all the women in her account by stating “Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.”
Should Dre have pushed for this to be portrayed in the film and allow himself to be held up to judgment by the public? In the case of Dee Barnes and Dr Dre, they have both taken the platform offered them around the timing of the release of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to address and openly talk about cases of domestic violence on the part of Dr Dre. Dr Dre directly addressed the incidents of domestic violence in his Rolling Stone interview;
“I made some fucking horrible mistakes in my life,” says Dre. “I was young, fucking stupid. I would say all the allegations aren’t true – some of them are. Those are some of the things that I would like to take back. It was really fucked up. But I paid for those mistakes, and there’s no way in hell that I will ever make another mistake like that again.”
So is Gawker media simply educating the masses who may still not know about these truths and providing them with context and truth behind the ‘revisionist history’ or is it salaciously taking advantage of the media coverage to bait some more clicks?
Gawker is a media company that isn’t just simply driven to bring us the truth – they’ve become infamous for their form of ‘click-bait journalism’ which prides itself on a lynch mob mentality of raking up the dirt on celebrities just as the British tabloids do. While they take the moral position of shaming public figures for cases of misogyny and racism, similarly to the Daily Mail they are also driven to polarise people rather then push important debate to the fore. It may sound like a generalisation but the achievements of Gawker’s media journalism has hardly moved the needle or pushed activism towards making real change.
Gawker itself faced criticism from its own staff at Jezebel for their hypocritical stance on sexual abuse with an open letter published by its own writers on its sister site Jezebel;
“Working at Gawker Media is a dream job for many of the women on staff here at Jezebel. This is a place that takes chances on developing writers, that has always stood behind us no matter what. But it’s time the company had its feet held to the fire. For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. In refusing to address the problem, Gawker’s leadership is prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat to the mental health of Jezebel’s staff and readers. If this were happening at another website, if another workplace was essentially requiring its female employees to manage a malevolent human pornbot, we’d report the hell out of it here and cite it as another example of employers failing to take the safety of its female employees seriously. But it’s happening to us. It’s been happening to us for months. And it feels hypocritical to continue to remain silent about it.”
In the U.K countless media figures and politicians have been exposed and prosecuted for crimes of sexual abuse against minors and women. The accounts are horrifying and for the victims it’s taken almost decades for them to come forward about their ordeals. In part the media’s so called ‘job’ has become more fervently persistent now then ever before to take-down and shame media figures – but for every public figure that is finally brought to account for their abuse, there is also an environment and culture around those figures that condoned that behaviour and allowed it to continue.
As uncomfortable as it may seem, there is a culture of groupies, enablers and an industry that exploits and abuses artists and their fans – creating an environment and pattern of abuse – both the victimisers and those that consider themselves victimless should be held to account. Just because you may not be the abuser does not mean that you may not still be enabling that behaviour in some way. Standing in judgement does not excuse those very people who stay silent in the sidelines. The industry is rife with ‘yes men’ who assist abusers simply because their own livelihoods depend on it.
For the accusation of revisionist history when it comes to women, although it was difficult to fit in every detail of the stories that revolved around NWA, there is still a significant amount of ‘exploitation’ and wrongful ‘violence’ that is portrayed in ‘Straight Outta Compton’ – and it doesn’t make for easy viewing. We see the portrayal of the victims of Suge Knight, the exploitation of Eazy-E and by Eazy-E, the victimisation of an entire community at the hands of the police and we see the exploitation by managers, labels and other artists. In this story – no one is victimless or not victimised. The women that are actively present in the biopic are the women who some say are relegated to the sidelines but they are also not the ones who were looking for the public spotlight. For those women that did choose to be in the spotlight as artists or TV presenters like Michel’le and Dee – their story was not shown.
According to the World Heath Organisation, ‘35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.’ When highlighting the societal conditions that lead to the victim and victimiser, the societal conditions play a crucial role;
- Risk factors for being a perpetrator include low education, exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.
- Risk factors for being a victim of intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.
Michel’le appeared on The Breakfast Club in March 2015 and since then other platforms to talk about her experiences as a singer coming up through South Central LA, her emergence as an artist, her experiences with Dre and her relationship with Suge Knight. The question though is how do we as a society and culture address the societal conditions that create the victims and the victimisers?
Many women who love the music, love the artists and make the music have difficulty dealing with the contradictions and complexities they face. Tackling feminist issues today requires a deeper conversation about how women are exploited in a patriarchal industry and society overall – abuse of any kind towards women, children and men is colour blind and is something that is happening on a global scale.
It is disturbing to read the statistics again and again that show how the system is failing victims of abuse, a recent report has also stated the cases of police misconduct in tackling these cases ‘The reality is domestic violence-related calls constitute the single largest category of calls received by the police. Over one million women are sexually assaulted each year, and more than a third of women are subjected to rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. And have no doubt: Black women and other women of color are disproportionately impacted.’
#SayHerName is a movement that has sought to highlight the lack of police justice and the dismissals of many claims from women who desperately need support and assistance in cases of abuse. The reality is this is not a victimless crime and escaping responsibility for the protection of the abused is no longer something that can be avoided by society at large. The systems and environments that fail to protect innocent victims impact us all one way or another.
We should never say the word poverty, without the words inequality and injustice being far behind.