A film as conflicted and brilliant as its protagonist
“All Eyez on Me” is the long-anticipated and heavily discussed biopic of musician Tupac Shakur.
Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) was raised by his mother, Afeni (Danai Gurira), a Black Panther and political activist turned crack addict. As a child, the rapper was held at gunpoint as the FBI arrested his step-father.
With his mother often absent, Shakur grew up on the streets, living with strangers and raising his younger sister. He would later drop out of high school and pursue a career in music that would make him, arguably, the most influential and talented rapper in music history.
In conversations shown onscreen, representatives from Interscope Records challenge the content of Shakur's music, which is replete with graphic language depicting violence and drug use. Shakur defends the content as autobiographical and reflective of his upbringing. In the same way Shakur maintains this honesty in his music, the film's depictions of these graphic images make “All Eyez on Me” both brutally honest and unsettling to watch.
Black men are the subject of violence at the hands of white police officers in lingering scenes that feel all too relevant to the current political climate. Combined with Afeni's ability to draw a parallel between the government's treatment of the Black Panther party and Shakur's music, these images reveal Shakur as a symbol of black resistance in a society that does not want to be forced to examine its own evils.
With its references to the Black Panther movement, and its troubled-yet-brilliant hero who is interviewed by a journalist (Hill Harper) while in prison, it is hard not to draw comparisons to Spike Lee's “Malcolm X.”
But, while X was able to find redemption through prison, Shakur's jail stint following a guilty verdict for sexual assault (charges that are left problematically ambiguous here) instead leads him into signing with Death Row Records and into the mentorship of Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana).
Under Knight, Shakur is propelled down a path of consumer commercialism. From there, “All Eyez” becomes less the story of a troubled revolutionary and more the tale of a brilliant black man whose talents are squandered by those close enough to do so.
The film ends with an account of the numerous accolades and the record-breaking achievements Shakur garnered before his (not-really-a-spoiler alert) shooting death at age 25. His art, placed next to his life, is striking in its resemblance: troubled, difficult and gone far too soon.