All Eyez on Me, a representation of the life of Tupac Shakur, was released in the USA on what would have been Tupac Shakur’s 46th birthday June 16th 2017, with a UK release on 30th June.
There is intense pressure on filmmakers to “get it right” when making a film about any famous person, let alone someone as controversial and inspirational as the rapper, actor, poet and black activist Tupac Shakur – whose death was only 20 years ago.
That said, I feel this movie works as an introduction to his life, his music and what he stood for. Named after one of Tupac’s most famous albums, ‘All Eyez on Me’ allowed the viewers a glimpse into the rapper’s world.
My family are big Tupac fans, and as I was born shortly after his death, they gave me the middle name Shakur. I roughly knew the tunes to some of his songs, but because of the swearing I wasn’t allowed to listen to some of lyrics. I also didn’t know much about his story. Until now.
The film was structured around interviews with Tupac whilst he was in prison, with the reporter’s questions leading into segments of the film. The soundtrack comprised almost entirely of Tupac songs, as his extensive rap repertoire was often connected to events in his life, or issues affecting people around him.
Demetrius Shipp Jr, who made his acting debut as Tupac Shakur in the film, has been praised for looking uncannily like Tupac. Controversially, the film changed directors since its development, with John Singleton leaving due to creative differences in 2015. However, director Benny Boom took the film to completion.
At the start of the film, Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur presented herself as a proud Black Panther activist, freed from prison as one of the Panthers 21. She explained to reporters that she would continue the struggle for the rights of black people, for herself, and for her unborn son who would grow up to be Tupac Amaru Shakur.
The film often highlighted the troubled home life that Tupac grew up in, but also showed how important it was for Afeni to educate her son. As a Christmas present, Afeni gives Tupac a notebook, telling him, “that’ll get you a lot further than a basketball.” However the family soon had to flee, after being spied on by the FBI.
Since the movie’s screening, people have been critical of how events were portrayed. The most vocal has been actor Jada Pinkett-Smith, (Tupac’s best friend) who says the film doesn’t accurately reflect their relationship.
“My relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in ‘All Eyez On Me’ to stand as truth.” she tweeted after watching the film. As a poet, Tupac wrote several poems, including one titled ‘Jada’, where he describes her as the “omega of his heart”.
“Pac never read me that poem. I didn’t know that poem existed until it was printed in his book” – Jada Pinkett-Smith
This and other slight inaccuracies, have caused some reviewers to bash the film. Yet I feel this was included to show that Tupac was a talented poet, as well as an actor and rap artist. Only after Tupac’s death were his poems collated in his book The Rose That Grew From Concrete, many of which he wrote when just 19 years old.
While All Eyez on Me conveyed Tupac’s sensitive poetic side, it also focused on his desire to portray the struggles of the black community in his music. One early example was his single Brenda’s got a Baby – based on a real news article about a 12-year-old young mother who turned to prostitution. Record executives didn’t want to release the single, but Tupac insisted that he had to write about what was really happening in the community.
The film shed some light on Tupac’s rivalry with fellow rapper Biggie Smalls, showing that they had once been close friends. In one scene, Tupac told his former friend that his lyrics needed to inspire the people, and give them power. The character of Biggie said that he only wanted to give them power to buy his records.
The film allows us to see the lead up to Tupac’s prison sentence for an alleged sexual assault. The film implicates the real perpetrators, and in the court scene, Tupac criticised the judge for focusing on him as an artist, but not looking at the real man in front of him.
Whilst in prison Tupac is visited by his mother, and in this heart-breaking scene, Afeni isn’t even allowed to touch her son. In the background plays Tupac’s song ’Dear Mama’, about his appreciation for his mother.
While serving his sentence, Tupac releaseed his multi-platinum album, Me Against the World, and became the first artist to have a number one album while in prison. During his time in jail, Tupac signed with Death Row Records. It was presented like a deal with the devil, especially because of Death Row’s gang affiliation with the ‘Bloods’.
When Tupac was released from prison, he went straight to the studio and recorded California Love with Dr. Dre. Following this, Tupac continued working almost obsessively on his music, and established himself as an actor.
The film had to deal with Tupac’s death in a sensitive way. While Tupac often spoke about tomorrow not being promised to anyone, as an audience member you are aware that his arrival in Las Vegas for the Mike Tyson fight marks the end of Tupac’s life. He was fatally shot on September 7th 1996, and died six days later. It is unknown who really killed Tupac Shakur.
The end of the film had a real interview clip with Tupac saying ‘I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.’
As the end credits rolled, Tupac’s song Only God Can Judge Me played.
If anything, this film inspired me to want to find out more- for example watching other films such as Tupac: Resurrected, a documentary including actual interviews and footage from Tupac Shakur himself.
Yet most of all I’d recommend listening to his rap lyrics, explaining what he directly experienced in his own words.