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Compton worries 'Straight Outta Compton' could give people the wrong idea

Compton worries 'Straight Outta Compton' could give people the wrong idea
Compton Mayor Aja Brown delivers her State of the City address in July. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

For Compton officials, the buzz over the much-anticipated movie "Straight Outta Compton" brought pride but also a bit of anxiety.

They liked the idea of their city being recognized as a birthplace of such a popular musical form. But some worried that viewers might confuse the violent, blighted 1980s city portrayed in the movie with the city of today, where crime is down and a revitalization is underway.

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"I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned," Compton Mayor Aja Brown said a few weeks before the movie's opening this week.

Amid the heavy marketing of the movie, Brown and others in Compton have been doing some counter-marketing of their own. They use the Twitter hashtag #visionforcompton to promote articles and other items that focus on the positive changes they see the city making. The closing credits of the movie contain a link to www.comptonup.org, which talks about how different the new Compton is from the old Compton.

"There’s more to the City of Compton than its worldwide reputation as the 'home of gangsta rap,'" the website states. "Its struggles with violence, gangs and poverty have painted the once great city as the icon of 'inner city urban chaos.' Welcome to the Compton of today and the strides that are being made to return Compton to the beautiful, thriving suburban city it once was."

The film, which opens Friday, chronicles the rap group N.W.A's rise to fame from the streets of Compton in the mid-1980s when gang violence gave the city a notorious reputation. It's a chapter in the city's history that Brown would rather not revisit, let alone see magnified on a big screen.

For all the changes in her city, Brown said old perceptions can linger.

"People think of Compton as a very dangerous place," she said. "We certainly have our challenges like many communities, but when we look at the statistics and the feel of the city and we talk to people who live here, it's a different city from 25 years ago."

Chain businesses that have long shunned Compton are moving in. Last week, Dr. Dre announced that the proceeds from his latest album, "Compton: A Soundtrack," will go toward the building of a performing arts center for the city's youth.

"People are taking a second look at Compton or rethinking what they believed to be true," Brown said. "Even the rap stars who helped established Compton's reputation worldwide are older now and even their images have evolved."

Dre's gift to Compton won wide praise in the city, where some residents say it's been hard to shed the gangster reputation.

City Councilwoman Janna Zurita, a self-described gangsta rap fan who went to prom with N.W.A member DJ Yella, said it was time for Compton to embrace its role in popularizing the genre.

"We should be benefiting from putting rap and gangsta rap on the map," she said.

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