Why a survivor of assault is speaking out against "Straight Outta Compton"
It’s a well-worn tale: In January 1991, Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre, allegedly physically assaulted music journalist Dee Barnes, choking and kicking her at a nightclub in L.A. Barnes told the L.A. Times as much roughly seven months after the attack, saying that “[Dr. Dre] picked me up by my hair and my ear and smashed my face and body into the wall…Next thing I know, I’m down on the ground and he’s kicking me in the ribs and stamping on my fingers. I ran into the women’s bathroom to hide, but he burst through the door and started bashing me in the back of the head.” And Dre himself seemed to more or less cop to the incident in a Rolling Stone interview published in August 1991.
And while the media has brought up the incident time and again—as well as Dre’s alleged assaults of R&B singer and former girlfriend Michel’le and female MC Tairrie B—the mogul hasn’t truly been held to account until now. Yesterday, Gawker published a first hand account, written by Dee Barnes herself, of what went down. The essay offers a stunning view of both how F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton manages to downplay the roles of the women it does portray, while offering a “revisionist history” that cuts out his assault of Barnes as well as the handful of women who were as much a part of the Compton rap scene as N.W.A.
“In his lyrics, Dre made hyperbolic claims about all these heinous things he did to women,” writes Barnes. “But then he went out and actually violated women. Straight Outta Compton would have you believe that he didn’t really do that.”
In the essay, she explains that Dre’s brutal attack followed the airing of a segment on her show Pump It Up! featuring the members of N.W.A. dissing by that time former member, Ice Cube. The show’s producers then included a clip shot separately of Ice Cube spitting just as much vitriol about his former collaborators. This part of the story is often told, but as Barnes reveals, it was now-famed director F. Gary Gray who held the camera during the Ice Cube interview that would ultimately start the chain reaction. She writes:
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. Gary was the one holding the camera during that fateful interview with Ice Cube, which was filmed on the set of Boyz N the Hood.
According to Barnes, she didn’t want to run the segment, worrying that it would only fuel the already deep beef between a group of men she considered her friends. But she says her protests were dismissed and that the show’s producers wrote her off.
“I wasn’t even thinking about being attacked at the time, I was just afraid that they were going to shoot each other,” she continues. “I didn’t want to be part of that. “This is no laughing matter,” I tried telling them. “This is no joke. These guys take this stuff seriously.” I was told by executives that I was being emotional. That’s because I’m a woman. They would have never told a man that. They would have taken him seriously and listened.”
From there, Barnes launches into a detailed history of all the other women who have been dismissed over the last 25 years by people within and without N.W.A., including JJ Fad, a female rap group whose successful debut album helped establish N.W.A.’s Ruthless Records label; female MC Yo Yo, who worked extensively with Ice Cube after he went solo; Jewell and Lady of Rage, two female rappers who collaborated with Dr. Dre on The Chronic; and Tairrie B, who through working with Eazy E became the first white female hardcore rapper.
“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, writes Barnes, adding, “It’s easy for them to be dismissive of women, because they don’t respect most women.”
Be sure to read the whole illuminating piece on Gawker.
(Image via Universal)