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Entertainment & Arts

‘Straight Outta Compton’ screenwriters respected that ‘it is N.W.A’s story, not ours’

‘Straight Outta Compton’ writers

An image of “Straight Outta Compton” screenwriters Jon Herman, right, and Andrea Berloff.

(Universal Pictures)

Though we both hail from New England — almost as geographically far as you can get from Compton and still call yourself an American — when the opportunity to write “Straight Outta Compton” came our way, we recognized immediately that the music as well as the story of this group of passionate artists would resonate beyond the confines of Southern California.

From Day 1, we knew that “Straight Outta Compton” could be more than a musical biopic for a specialized audience. We intended to use the story of N.W.A to create an event movie about America. A movie that explored the themes of freedom of speech, of race, of police abuse and more. And that wrapped up in all of those big ideas there would be a story about intense friendship between young African American men, a group that doesn’t often get their turn in the spotlight. And we hoped that these men and their journey would resonate with anyone who has ever been young, ambitious and passionate.

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The job of working with real-life people to bring their story to the screen is a challenging one. You have to tell a great tale, it has to be more or less the truth, and it has to be damn entertaining. When we began the project, we sat down with Ice Cube and asked him, “Why do you want to make this movie? Why is this important to you?” Because although obviously we had a strong point of view on the material, ultimately it is N.W.A’s story, not ours. We had to serve as their collaborators to help them create the story that they were excited to share.

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With those pie-in-the-sky goals in mind, then came the challenge of diving into the world and immersing ourselves in as much detail as possible. Because while Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the music of N.W.A are internationally known, the narrative of how they got to be famous isn’t. There are very few books written about them and those that exist don’t speak for the guys. We knew from the start that the only way to learn the true story was to dig deep with the people who lived it. We spent 10 months interviewing Dr. Dre; Ice Cube; MC Ren; DJ Yella; Eazy E’s widow, Tomica Woods Wright; and many other people who lived the story.

From these 10 months of interviews, we compiled over 1,000 pages of transcripts. This gave us insight into not only their history, but also the cultural and political ramifications of the band along with each individual’s personal journey. From these transcripts, the early drafts of the movie emerged.

In the five years between those early drafts and the release of the movie, we went through countless iterations while we pared down the story to its essence. Obviously, working with several powerful producers plus a director and a studio, there was quite a bit of discussion about which parts of the story to tell and which pieces weren’t essential. But we think that the movie you see on the screen is fairly close to the vision we had all those years ago.

There is much about the process that has been gratifying to us. The fact that the members of N.W.A are happy with the movie is deeply satisfying. But beyond that, we are thrilled that audiences connected with the larger ideas we set out to explore. The themes of freedom of speech, of race in America … these are topics that Hollywood screenwriters don’t often get the opportunity to explore. These are conversations America often shies away from having. We are honored to have been a part of creating “Straight Outta Compton.”

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