As Straight Outta Compton continues to dominate conversations and the box office, more details are starting to emerge about the stories we didn’t see in the film. While props are pouring in for Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and N.W.A, those congratulations are also raising questions about the misogyny found in the group’s music, their current feelings on those views, and Dr. Dre’s documented history of physically abusing women.
Dee Barnes, the woman most notoriously linked with abuse at the hands of the super-producer, was a former video show host who claimed Dre beat her, slammed her head against a wall and attempted to toss her down a flight of stairs, and now she’s telling her side – it’s not pretty. At the request of Gawker, Barnes screened the movie and wrote a lengthy piece offering a first hand critique of the film, most notably the omission of Dre’s alleged violent past. Barnes’ main concern: why was a depiction of her 1991 beating – or the other reported incidents – not shown or referenced in the movie?
“That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: ‘I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.’
But what should have been addressed is that it occurred. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, ‘Uhhh, what happened?’ 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.”
Barnes dives into her history with the group and explains how she’d never experienced the misogyny that we heard in songs like “A B*tch Iz A B*tch” and “She Swallowed It.” What she did experience was being an unexpected casualty in the war between Ice Cube and N.W.A. After interviews turned into taunts, Dr. Dre was mad and Dee took the brunt of his rath. Rather than sugar coat that history, she points the finger at an unlikely figure: director F. Gary Gray.
“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. I was there to interview the rapper Yo Yo. Cube was in a great mood, even though he was about to shoot and he was getting into character.
Cube went into a trailer to talk to Gary and Pump It Up! producer Jeff Shore. I saw as he exited that Cube’s mood had changed. Either they told him something or showed him the N.W.A. footage we had shot a few weeks earlier…N.W.A. were chewing Cube up and spitting him out. I was trying to do a serious interview and they were just clowning—talking sh*t, cursing. It was crazy.”
On Jan. 27, 1991 at a record release party, Dre allegedly assaulted Barnes in what is a pretty scary scenario depicted by Barnes. She admits that she settled out of court with Dre, but only after court dates dragged on. She also clarifies that she didn’t get rich as a result of the case. She wrote “People think I was paid millions, when in reality, I didn’t even get a million, and it wasn’t until September of 1993.”
Barnes, for the most part, says her career thereafter was ruined.
“People ask me, ‘How come you’re not on TV anymore?’ and ‘How come you’re not back on television?’ It’s not like I haven’t tried. I was blacklisted. Nobody wants to work with me. They don’t want to affect their relationship with Dre. I’ve been told directly and indirectly, ‘I can’t work with you.’ I auditioned for the part that eventually went to Kimberly Elise in Set It Off. Gary was the director. This was long after Pump it Up!, and I nailed the audition. Gary came out and said, ‘I can’t give you the part.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Cause I’m casting Dre as Black Sam.’ My heart didn’t sink, I didn’t get emotional; I was just numb.
Most recently, I tried to get a job at Revolt. I’ve known Sean (Combs) for years and have the utmost respect for him. Still nothing. Instead of doing journalism, I’ve had a series of 9-5 jobs over the years to make ends meet.”
Before ending her article, Barnes notes a number of female acts missing from the N.W.A. biopic – including Tairrie B, a white female rapper who Barnes states Dre punched “twice at a Grammys party in 1990,” a year before her own assault.
While the SOC film is still my favorite so far this year, it’s hard for me not to feel a bit disgusted with the way N.W.A.’s legacy was effectively scrubbed clean enough for general admission. Should Dee Barnes’ assault been relived for the world to see? Probably not. But, does this send a message that wrongs can be dismissed as easy as footage left on the cutting room floor? Absolutely.