As the controversy surrounding Dr. Dre’s assault on journalist Dee Barnes in 1991 resurfaced close to the premiere of “Straight Outta Compton” last Friday (leading to Dre kind of, sort of speaking on it in the latest Rolling Stone), Barne’s voice was notably absent from the contemporary discussion. Now, a revealing testimonial from Barnes in Gawker explores her reactions to the film, touching on the omission of Dre’s assault on her and alleged abuse towards ex-girlfriend Michel’le. The whole unsettling and stark piece is well-deserving of your full attention, but there are a few telling quotes that paint the biopic in a new light.
She addressed the omission of any mention of the assaults in the film, which she explained as being more problematic than actually depicting the assault:
That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: “I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.”
But what should have been addressed is that it occurred. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, “Uhhh, what happened?” Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.
Barnes went on to talk about the complicity of “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray, who was a cameraman for Barnes’s show “Pump It Up!” and was present for the interview with Ice Cube that set off Dre and NWA enough (who were then feuding with Cube; now, Cube is the biopic’s co-producer and the feud apparently is over) to attack Barnes and try and justify it:
That’s right. F. Gary Gray, the man whose film made $60 million last weekend as it erased my attack from history, was also behind the camera to film the moment that launched that very attack. He was my cameraman for Pump It Up! You may have noticed that Gary has been reluctant to address N.W.A.’s misogyny and Dre’s attack on me in interviews. I think a huge reason that Gary doesn’t want to address it is because then he’d have to explain his part in history. He’s obviously uncomfortable for a reason.
Tellingly, Barnes (who is working on her memoir and is looking for a publisher, according to Gawker) also described the damage done to her career based on Dre’s increasing ubiquity in entertainment—something that, with his being a successful Apple-affiliated entrepreneur, she must still confront:
People ask me, “How come you’re not on TV anymore?” and “How come you’re not back on television?” It’s not like I haven’t tried. I was blacklisted. Nobody wants to work with me. They don’t want to affect their relationship with Dre. I’ve been told directly and indirectly, “I can’t work with you.” I auditioned for the part that eventually went to Kimberly Elise in Set It Off. Gary was the director. This was long after Pump it Up!, and I nailed the audition. Gary came out and said, “I can’t give you the part.” I asked him why, and he said, “‘Cause I’m casting Dre as Black Sam.” My heart didn’t sink, I didn’t get emotional; I was just numb.
Most recently, I tried to get a job at Revolt. I’ve known Sean (Combs) for years and have the utmost respect for him. Still nothing. Instead of doing journalism, I’ve had a series of 9-5 jobs over the years to make ends meet.
She also drew an important connection between the depictions of police harassment in “Straght Outta Compton” (a big part of the film’s current resonance) and the erasure of violence experienced by black women:
Accurately articulating the frustrations of young black men being constantly harassed by the cops is at Straight Outta Compton’s activistic core. There is a direct connection between the oppression of black men and the violence perpetrated by black men against black women. It is a cycle of victimization and reenactment of violence that is rooted in racism and perpetuated by patriarchy. If the breadth of N.W.A.’s lyrical subject matter was guided by a certain logic, though, it was clearly a caustic logic.
Read the whole revealing piece on Gawker.