‘All Eyez On Me’ Squanders the Opportunity To Examine 2Pac’s Relationships With Women
All Eyez On Me, the biopic that chronicles the life and career of Tupac Shakur, has been receiving mixed reviews from critics and some prominent celebs since it hit theaters on June 16--what would have been the rapper's 46th birthday. 2Pac means a lot to a lot of people--it's understandable that a movie about his life would be the subject of intense scrutiny. The film's flaws are evident virtually from the very beginning, with a prison interview as clumsy framing device and paper thin characterizations of the Black Panthers that influenced the young Shakur and educated him regarding revolutionary politics.
The critics have all sounded off on All Eyez On Me's failings--as has Jada Pinkett-Smith, a childhood friend of the rapper who is featured prominently in the film portrayed by actress Kat Graham. 2Pac fans know that Pinkett-Smith and Shakur were very close, and she took exception to some of the liberties the filmmakers took with their history.
“Forgive me… my relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in All Eyez On Me to stand as truth,” she tweeted the day before the movie hit theaters. "Pac never said goodbye to me before leaving for LA. He had to leave abruptly and it wasn't to pursue his career," she explained, and called out other inaccuracies in the story.
Jada's criticisms come from a very personal place--this was a friendship that meant a lot to her. And, of course, biopics are never completely based in fact--things are often dramatized for the sake of storytelling. But Pinkett-Smith's criticisms highlight what is arguably All Eyez On Me's greatest failing: it sanitizes and oversimplifies 2Pac's complicated relationship with women in his life.
For all of Suge Knight's infamy, Snoop Dogg's popularity and the never-wavering loyalty of Naughty By Nature's Treach, 2Pac's most compelling relationships were with women. His mother Afeni Shakur looms large in his story; she was his intellectual and political foundation. A former Black Panther who notably represented herself in the notorious "Panther 21" trial of 1971--when Shakur and the other Panther defendants were acquitted on May 12, 1971--she was undoubtedly the most important figure in his life.
“I got pregnant while I was out on bail. I never thought that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life in jail. I was never getting out and that’s why I wanted to have this baby. Because I wanted to leave something here. I was going to jail for three hundred and twelve years. That’s what I was facing. But my sister was out. If I thought I was getting out, I never would have had the baby. I probably would have gotten an abortion.”
2Pac and Afeni's relationship was famously complex. Following the imprisonment of Mutulu Shakur, her husband and his stepfather, the young Tupac's life was thrown into instability. The film depicts this period with no sense of emotion or gravity, breezing through 2Pac's younger years with easy cliches and painting his Panther elders as caricatures who only spend one or two scenes on camera. The movie touches on Afeni's later drug addiction and how it led to estrangement between she and her famous son. But there are precious few moments where the audience gets a firm understanding of what moved Afeni Shakur. Outside of dialogue riddled with empty pro-black slogans and the intense performance of Danai Gurira, the character is only there to appear ever so often and spout rhetoric. When Afeni descends into drug addiction, we don't get to see how much it changed her and 2Pac. It's only a footnote. We don't really learn who Afeni was as a person when she arguably could've--and should've--been the second most significant character in this story.
The 2Pac and Jada friendship gets more or less a storybook treatment that relies on quasi-romantic hints to add drama to what has always described as a platonic relationship, and the historical embellishments only make their relationship less distinctive. She acts as 2Pac's moral compass throughout the movie, but like Afeni--she's so underdeveloped the friendship holds little weight--despite a commendable performance from Kat Graham. Similarly, 2Pac's engagement to Kidada Jones, much less publicized and well-trod than his friendship with Jada or relationship with Afeni, is given short shrift. What seems like his most significant romantic relationship is never fleshed out, once again, easy cliches are used to explain how Shakur and Jones go from adversarial (he famously trashed her father Quincy Jones in a VIBE interview) to affectionate.
But the most troubling revisionism as it pertains to women in All Eyez On Me is the depiction of Tupac Shakur's sexual abuse case. The filmmakers present the night in which 2Pac and his associates were accused of gang-raping Ayanna Jackson in a Manhattan suite as something that was instigated by cronies and affiliates that he barely knew--and something that he did not in any way take part in. It has been speculated that the case was an attempt to set up Pac following the shooting of two police officers in Atlanta. But Jackson testified and shared later that Shakur was there when things happened and invited his boys into the room. She was bruised and battered following the incident that the film depicts as a case involving a groupie who was a borderline stalker, obsessing over 2Pac who only became angry after he dismissed her advances.
It's a shameful revision. Even if one believes this to be a case of "he said, she said," there's too much there to completely ignore what she said. In an effort to downplay and exonerate Shakur respectively, the film plays up the worst stereotypes about rape victims for the sake of preserving the image of a hip-hop hero.
One of the most well-worn cliches about Tupac Shakur is that he was "complex." His complexities are what make him fascinating, but they don't necessarily make him unique. Pac was relatable because we all saw some of ourselves in his inner conflict. But All Eyez On Me decides to present that conflict in the most watered-down, neutered way. And like Straight Outta Compton, it misses the opportunity to use an ugly incident from a popular rapper's past to challenge our ideas about hero worship. 2Pac's interactions with women are as much a part of who he was as his confrontational and/or militant leanings, hopefully someone someday will do those particular stories justice.
Watch the Trailer for All Eyez On Me Below: