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Interview: Chatting with Director F. Gary Gray on His Much-Anticipated N.W.A. Bio, ‘Straight Outta Compton’

Interview: Chatting with Director F. Gary Gray on His Much-Anticipated N.W.A. Bio, 'Straight Outta Compton'

If his films represent his ideology, prolific director F. Gary Gray loves rapid action,

vulnerability, and laughter mixed with tears. His film “voice” shows us that he loves raw

humanity. He has directed and produced many unforgettable films such as the 1990’s

classic “Friday,” as well as “Set It Off,” and “The Italian Job.” However, next Friday, August 14th, the world

will be able to see his most epic film to date.

“Straight Outta Compton” is a true-to-life story about NWA; one of America’s most popular

rap groups from the 1980s. The film is unapologetic, and one of its central themes,

“Police brutality,” can be related to news headlines of today, many decades later. I spoke to Gray about “Straight Outta Compton’s” production and

casting process, his vision for the film, and its historical importance.

Shadow and Act: The film connected directly to the current state of cop crimes

and black people. However, this story took place in the 1990’s. Its now 2015, more

than 25 years later. However, we have the same national rhetoric. What are your

thoughts on that?

F. GARY GRAY: You know, I wish I could say that this is a period piece and back in the

day when cops over stepped their boundaries, and that now there is this change and

more. But things have not really changed. But I am optimistic. These guys of NWA were

courageous in shining a light on the problem before pre internet, recording incidents.

Now that a lot of these cop related matters are in the headlines, you can’t help but to

know that change is coming. Change has to come. Its got to put a lot of pressure on our

law enforcement to get it together, and a lot of pressure on our leaders.

Shadow and Act: I went to see the film and I did not know what to expect. I

assumed that it would be a music biopic, and that’s it. What I walked away from

was something more focused on a person’s dreams and civil rights. I did not

expect that at all.

F. GARY GRAY: I take that as a compliment. Thank you. This film is so much bigger

than the group. Their message is so much bigger than the music.

Shadow and Act: When did you start shooting the film?

F. GARY GRAY​: I’ve been involved with this film for four years.We started shooting last

year, and we just finished shooting it a few weeks ago.

Shadow and Act: Did it all take place in Los Angeles?

F. GARY GRAY​: Yes, we shot it in Compton, and South Central LA. We used the

realities to serve the reality of the story.

Shadow and Act: Tell us about the casting process. Many are not familiar with

any of the leads. I saw that Ice Cube’s son was cast as a lead, however, if I am

honest, I did not expect performance with depth. After screening the film, I am

deeply moved and impressed.

F. GARY GRAY​: It was crazy. It took us years to find these guys. I always say were

scoured half of the planet in search for these guys. Cindy Tolan really stepped up and

helped out. It was a long process. And I want to dispel any rumors about Ice Cube’s

son. He ‘s worked hardest to get his role. We had to carry a movie, and so after the

novelty of saying “It’s Ice Cube’s son” wore off ­­­ now he had to actually perform. And

no one wants to jeopardize a film due to any kind of nepotism. That would be really


Shadow and Act: I have to admit, I did Google the lead actor’s performance

backgrounds after screening the film. I was blown away. All three leads gave it all,

and I am grateful for their commitment to their part in serving the story.

F. GARY GRAY​: I love these guys. They all come from different backgrounds. They

went through boot camp. I had them record the album together ­­­ they needed to

become. DJ school. They went through it all.

Shadow and Act: How did you make the connection with your cinematographer

Matthew Libatique?

F. GARY GRAY​: Yes, he’s the DP from Black Swan, Iron Man, Inside Man. He’s just a

great DP. He’s one of the best. And so when we reached out he was really excited

about doing the NWA story because he is a huge fan. He’s a huge hip hop fan. We

couldn’t afford him, because he’s used to doing these huge big tent pole movies and he

just expressed his passion for the film. He said that he had time to shoot it.

Shadow and Act: The film has an amazing blend of humanity and action. What

inspired you to tell the story that way?

F. GARY GRAY​: You have to enjoy yourself when you go to the movies. People don’t

want to spend their hard earned money to simply go see a history lesson. So I tried to

stay as true to the story as possible, and make it a fun ride. So, adding humor and other

elements that get your heart jumping will separate this film from your typical biopic.

Shadow and Act: There were parts of the film where I was angry, and crying ­­­

and yet there were moments where I laughed, and even felt deep compassion for

the characters.

F. GARY GRAY​: Good, that’s what I wanted.

Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your connection to hip hop before your

involvement with this project?

F. GARY GRAY​: Hip hop has been an integral part of my life and my whole career. I

started off doing videos with Ice Cube, and Dre, and Mary J. Blige, and TLC. So I’ve

been involved in hip hop since the beginning. My very film was ‘Friday” which people

consider a hip hop film. As well as set it off.

Shadow and Act: If one simply listens to the lyrics of a NWA album, they wouldn’t

receive fully everything that the film can give them. The film adds in many

complex human elements.What would you say the historic significance would be

for the group?

F. GARY GRAY​: I wanted to set out to just tell the truth with this story. And because the

story is so dynamic, you are going to touch on a lot of factors. Like how relevant the

NWA story is to American history. I was aware of that when I took on this project. For

sure. I said that this project is a snapshot of American popular culture, and 100 years

from now when people see this film, and wonder what was going on in America during

the 80s and 90s; they will then see this film, and know. This film is a special story. We

had to go into dangerous storylines, to pull out what motivated these guys. I think it’s

universally inspiring to see them starting in a garage in this extremely dangerous

environment and work their way out of it and become family men, and successful

entrepreneurs. And so when you zoom in to this story and not just focus on the lyrics, or

things that you disagree with ­­­­ but look at their courage of standing up against their

environments, the record company, dealing with life issues and more ­­­ and fighting

each other.

Shadow and Act: Okay, I want talk about the female roles in the film. There were

no female leads; only supporting characters. And there was no mention of any

prior major incidents with women that that is public knowledge.

F. GARY GRAY​: The original film was 3 hours and 30 mins long. It actually included

more of the entire story that included women. And the relationships are really fleshed

out. We did not forget, because it’s part of the entire story. However, we could not fit it

all into a 2 hour movie. We had to weigh out what we were going to be criticized on.

Shadow and Act: Any last words to our readers about your film?

F. GARY GRAY​: Everyone that goes to see this movie will be surprised. You will be

educated and entertained.

“Straight Outta Compton” opens nationwide this Friday, August 14, 2015.

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