The first trailer has arrived for "Straight Outta Compton," F. Gary Gray's biopic about the seminal music group N.W.A., and it positions the movie as a gangsta rap origin story with a timely political edge.
Set for release Aug. 14, the film finds a young Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr., Cube's real-life son) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) coming together in the mid-1980s to make music that reflected the violence and desperation of their gang-ridden surroundings. (Like N.W.A.'s music, the trailer contains lots of explicit language; you can watch it on YouTube.)
As their manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), says, "People are scared of you guys. They think you're dangerous. But you have a unique voice — the world needs to hear it."
The world does hear it, with fame and fortune following, and in that sense "Straight Outta Compton" looks as though will follow a rise-and-fall arc common to music biopics. But the filmmakers — including producers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Tomica Woods-Wright (Eazy-E's widow) — may have more on their minds.
In a video introducing the trailer, the real-life Cube and Dre characterize their music as a form of nonviolent protest.
"We put it all in the music — all our frustration and anger," Cube says. "Our music was like our weapon." Dre adds, "And it's the most powerful weapon we got."
Such moments, along with those in the trailer emphasizing N.W.A.'s battles with censorship, suggest that "Straight Outta Compton" — or at least its marketing campaign — is looking to take a page out of the "Selma" playbook. Ava DuVernay's 1965-set civil rights drama has earned widespread acclaim for speaking to our current social and political landscape through a historical lens, and Gray's film may try to do something similar. (Like the "Selma" anthem "Glory," Cube seems to make reference to Ferguson in the intro.)
With only the trailer to go on, it's an open question whether "Straight Outta Compton" will actually endeavour toward social commentary, and if so, how much. On the one hand, doing so could help elevate the film above standard biopic fare, if it's done well.
On the other hand, trying too hard to make the film feel relevant or timely could distract from the already compelling story of how N.W.A. came to be and what they accomplished. They were, after all, the "world's most dangerous group." Shouldn't that be enough?
Follow @ogettell for movie news