All Eyez on Me silenced its critics this month, grossing over $27 million at the Box Office. Getting the biopic to the silver screen had its fair share of challenges; multiple lawsuits, a revolving door of writers/directors, and media scrutiny befitting a 2Pac film since he lived under such an intense microscope while he was alive.
Benny Douglas — better known as award-winning video director Benny Boom — was the final director who came on two weeks before filming started and brought the project home.
NBCBLK sat down with Benny the week before the movie’s theatrical release and asked him how he was holding up under the intense scrutiny that had been placed on him and the film. “I’m always up for challenges, that’s #1. So to be challenged for me – it wakes my spirit up like ok, let’s go, let’s rock.”
Born in West Philadelphia in the 1970s, Benny grew up a movie buff and hip-hop head so it seems natural that those two worlds would collide in his professional career.
Coming up under the tutelage of Spike Lee and Hype Williams, Benny had the best of both worlds when it came to merging his passions. Prior to directing his first feature film, "Next Day Air," Benny Boom was the go-to video director for hip-hop legends like Nas, Puff Daddy and 50 Cent.
The success of "All Eyez on Me" has already yielded new opportunities, Benny recently signed on to direct the Black List LAPD thriller, "The Shave."
Benny Boom spoke passionately about the project and distinguished 2Pac as the definitive icon of hip-hop culture. "All Eyez on Me" (AEOM) tells the story of 2Pac from the cradle to the grave. His militant upbringing led by his mother, Afeni Shakur and political prisoner Mutulu Shakur and the constant surveillance they endured at the hands of the F.B.I.
“The Black Panther experience and The Black Liberation Army experience that’s in the film is something we were very serious about because there’s no way to tell Pac’s story without telling that backstory,” said Douglas.
The early days with Digital Underground led to his musical and film successes and numerous run-ins with the law. Benny remembers all the 2Pac headlines of the 90’s and remembers thinking to himself “man this dude is talented, why does he keep getting in trouble?”
AEOM sets out to give viewers a behind the scenes look at 2Pac and the circumstances that allowed trouble to keep finding him ultimately place him inside Suge Knight’s BMW that fateful night in Las Vegas.
In order to do this, Producer L.T. Hutton and Douglas focused on what they call the Holy Trinity: Who was 2Pac? Who did he want to be? Who did he have to be to survive in the industry before hip-hop went pop and when there was a larger street undercurrent surrounding the genre?
Reviews have been mixed, the most appalling have been the crushing reviews from major publications who are no more than cultural voyeurs as it relates to hip-hop and the story of 2Pac. Hip-Hop fans have been divided over the film since it was announced and John Singleton’s “glowing endorsement” didn’t help much but it all feels a bit contradictory.
Nothing is above criticism and the movie has its flaws, but one has to wonder if it's the same chorus who create the hashtag #oscarssowhite and then turn around to bash a film with a Black producer and Black director without even making it to the theater to see it.
Benny recalls fans being overly critical. “People want to question everything before they see the movie. Did y'all put this scene in, is this song in it? Go see the movie and then you’ll see what other music we use.”
Perhaps the most damning critique comes from Jada Pinkett Smith, a longtime friend of 2Pac who accused the film of creating moments on-screen that never actually happened.
Looks aside, Demetrius Shipp’s portrayal of 2Pac can be chilling. He’s got the moves and mannerisms down pact so much so you would think it’s 2Pac’s hologram performing again during the scene re-creating the infamous House of Blues performance.
Danai Gurira’s performance as Afeni Shakur is extremely powerful, holding a light to the love and strength instilled in 2Pac from birth but also showing the trappings of the crack era and how those hard times ripped apart strong families.
AEOM doesn’t look to sanitize 2Pac’s story and in doing so allows us to marvel at the rose that grew from concrete.
"All Eyez on Me" is such an important film because it gives us the life of 2Pac in all its glory but it also stands as a cautionary tale. Afeni Shakur warns 2Pac in the film that the powers that be would give him the tools to destroy himself. Such sage wisdom is still valuable for young brothers today.
“I want this movie to live up to the legacy that Pac left us, to be a companion piece to his legacy,” said Benny.
I thought, gee that’s a lofty goal but then I’m reminded of Spike Lee’s "Malcolm X" and what that film means to a generation who never knew Malcolm, a generation who at best saw El Hajj Malik El Shabazz via news clippings and second hand stories. That film caused many of us to dig deeper into Brother Malcolm’s story – it is a companion for his life for a generation who did not know the man.
This year marks 21 years since 2Pac was killed and there’s a whole generation who knows of 2Pac but didn’t know 2Pac.
This film could be the spark that ignites someone to go out and research 2Pac beyond this film. To study what he stood for, his goals and passion for black people.
Maybe someone will be inspired and look to fulfill 2Pac's Thug Life vision of solidarity in urban communities where drugs and violence are no longer commonplace.
It's a tall order, only time will tell.