For those who do not know of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur and his music, Benny Boom’s All Eyez On Me will make little sense. They will wonder why the rapper and actor, who was killed at age 25, should be glorified so, as if he were a saint or social reformer. The film’s promos label him a “revolutionary”, which seems like too much hype.
Shakur has already been immortalised in documentaries and appeared in films about other rappers, but this is the first fictional film made on his too short and turbulent life. The framing device is Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr. - a dead ringer, but lacking in charisma) being interviewed in prison (on a sexual assault charge) by a journalist (Hill Harper). The viewer sees that he was raised by his Black Panther affiliated, ferocious, but unstable junkie mother (Danai Gurira - given some cringe-worthy melodramatic lines), his drama school days, break into the world of music, his friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his relationships with others in the music industry (like Suge Knight and Snoop Dogg), turf wars, his brush with criminality, and how his brief life played out with broad strokes of popularity and notoriety. The negatives are deftly pushed under the carpet.
The interview device is abruptly abandoned at some point, as Boom goes through Shakur’s life with a checklist, but is not able to summon up much empathy in the mind of the audience. Tupac deserved all the acclaim he got for his music, but his life and unsolved murder death are treated with surprising blandness in the film.
From all accounts, Tupac Shakur’s life deserved a more nuanced and much more dramatic retelling; especially since so much is already known about him. Boom does focus on the racism that did, and still does, impact the lives of black people, but still cannot explain to the rap novice how Shakur’s work stands out amidst that of his contemporaries, or why he continues to inspire musicians and filmmakers.
- Deepa Gahlot