“Real talk! The reason I am not making this picture is because the people involved aren’t really respectful of the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur. I won’t say much if you want you can read my articles in Hollywood Reporter on authenticity in Black Storytelling … To Pac’s real fans just know I am still planning a movie on Tupac … It doesn’t matter what they do mines will be better… Tupac was much more than a hip hop artist … He was a black man guided by his passions … Of most importance was his love of black people and culture … Something the people involved in this movie know nothing about… Real talk! How you gonna make a movie about a man when you suing his mother to get the rights to tell his story?! They have no true love 4 Pac so this movie will not be made with love! And that’s why my ass isn’t involved ! If Tupac knew what was going on he’d ride on all these fools and take it to the streets… But I won’t do that … I’ll just make my own project. What Yall think about that?!!”
The latest word is that the next director up might be Carl Franklin. Maybe he’ll be the guy to crack it. He hasn’t done that much in features since making the critically acclaimed indie One False Move and followed with Devil in A Blue Dress, which wasn’t a hit, despite the pedigree of Walter Mosley’s bestselling mystery series and the presence of Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle. He has reinvented himself in TV, and done some strong work helming episodes of major series like House Of Cards, Bloodline, Homeland and The Affair.
I wasn’t much of a fan of Shakur’s back in his heyday, perhaps because I just didn’t understand why a young man with such talent — beyond his records, he was a natural actor whose charisma came through in Juice and Poetic Justice — had found a clear path to success and yet didn’t insulate himself from the violence that eventually cost his life in 1996. My view of his songwriting ability changed after recently seeing the Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, which was anchored by a superb, intense performance by Saul Williams. There may well be a movie in there somewhere — the narrative wasn’t biographical, but it found a way to show the poigniance of Shakur’s lyrics by putting them in a contemporary context that made clear why his songs are relevant and sell so strongly, long after his murder. Then again, despite drawing raves on Broadway, the musical shuttered after 38 performances, and its principal backer, Eric Gold, lost his shirt, as the production took an $8 million bath.
Singleton seemed a strong choice, but sometimes these movies find their way to the screen in their own time, as we saw with several Oscar-bait films last year. This is something that is happening with the numerous Janis Joplin films, and hasn’t yet happened with Jimi Hendrix (remember when Paul Greengrass was ready to make a Hendrix movie with Legendary’s Thomas Tull, and Anthony Mackie playing the guitar god, only to have that nixed by the estate?). You hope they wait and get it right with Shakur, but the push to make a Tupac film will likely surge again after this summer’s release of Universal’s Straight Outta Compton. This feels like a film that has a chance to hit the zeitgeist, a period drama about the turbulent formation of the hip-hop group NWA. Here is the latest trailer for that movie (the first ran during the Grammys, with Ice Cube and Dr Dre driving around their old stomping grounds and directing fans to see a red band trailer online). Director F. Gary Gray seems to have thoughtfully framed out the birth of a culturally important movement, the kind of atom-splitting moment narrative that made films like The Social Network and The Imitation Game so compelling: