All Eyez On Me: The Tupac Biopic We Didn’t Need

When All Eyez On Me was announced via trailer a few months ago I was ecstatic. Tupac Shakur is one of my favorite rappers and I knew that it was his time to get a biopic. Last September marked 20 years since the death of the influential rapper with his murder still remaining a mystery. I was even more excited to hear that the legendary Benny Boom was directing it. Benny Boom is revered in the hip-hop community for his music videos. He also dabbles in film with hits like Next Day Air and SWAT. I’m weary of biopic films about Black musicians, however, with the recent success of the BET’s New Edition Story, I decided to give the film a chance. The film premiered nationwide and internationally on June 16th which would have been Shakur’s 46th birthday. I viewed a matinee the following afternoon, to a semi-packed theater. By then I had learned that Tupac’s best friend and former classmate Jada Pinkett Smith felt slighted by the film. She claimed it was a little bit fabricated. I also saw that Rotten Tomatoes had given it a low score, but I don’t know if that was an issue of people not understanding the significance. But as a fan of Tupac and also a consumer of hip-hop, I decided to give it a chance.

So there I sat in the theater that summer afternoon and in biopic fashion, expected to learn more about Tupac’s tumultuous life.

As the film opens we are first introduced to an incarcerated Pac who is interviewed by an unnamed journalist played by Hill Harper. We are then introduced to Tupac’s mother, former Black Panther Afeni Shakur, who is portrayed by Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira. She is pregnant with Tupac and is on the staircase after being acquitted of a crime she did not commit. We then see that Tupac’s lineage was one full of activists and change agents. In the next few scenes we see Afeni, a younger Pac and his sister living under constant surveillance due to the FBI. Within these few scenes that depict Tupac’s early years in New York, we see that this constant surveillance concerns Afeni. From there, the film transitions into Baltimore where we see a young Pac who has adjusted and seems to be fairing well. He attends a school of the arts and he’s an avid lover of Shakespeare. It is here where Tupac is becoming a thespian that we are introduced to Jada Smith.

This film tried to capture the events that made Tupac who he was; pre-fame, his rise to fame until his demise. The low points and high points in his career to his untimely death.The remainder of the film exhibit notable figures that were important in Tupac’s life story; like rival Notorious BIG, Suge Knight (Death Row Records founder), and Snoop Dogg — his friend and frequent collaborator.

The breakout star who plays Tupac is Demetrius Shipp Jr. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Shake that is undeniable. Shipp tried his hardest to portray Tupac but didn’t quite get the persona completely down. Granted, Tupac was a complicated figure, as recognized by the characters he played on screen and through his music. The actor who played Suge Knight, Dominic L. Santana, did a great job portraying Suge. Vampire Diaries’ Kat Graham, delivered a believable Jada Pinkett Smith. The most impactful performance of all was Danai Gurira who played Afeni. Jamal Woolard from Notoriousreprises his role as Notorious B.I.G. Some of the performances were either lackluster or laughable, making these real life figures seem like caricatures. You may see some familiar faces but none of them are memorable.

Overall the writing seems haphazard, sometimes the lines seemed force which aids to the lack of delivery by the cast. The film was written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian. Peter Menzies Jr is the cinematographer, known for 2001’s Lara Croft:Tomb Raider and 2010’s Clash of the Titans.

I applaud the attention to detail, from the locations to the clothes, and hairstyles. This continues to the recreation of various videos from Pac’s career. This alone aids in Pac’s evolution from a dorky high schooler to a rap superstar. The cinematography is one of the highlights of the film, and Benny Boom captured the feel of some of Tupac’s most iconic moments. All Eyez on Me is one of the few biopic movies about rappers. Other notable films include 2009’s Notorious, and 2015’s Straight Outta Compton.

As far as biopics go we have had several over the past few years highlighting Black icons; including RayAli, Selma, and Get On UpAll Eyez On Me did not meet my expectations due to the faulty writing, editing, and directing. This isn’t highbrow art, nor is it introspective. It is entertaining to watch in that sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll fashion. However do not look to this film to be inspired or educated; you won’t get that from this film. It does focus on Shakur, however, it feels hollow and one dimensional. It felt as if it misconstrued a lot of his messages, overlooking some of the complexity of his being. In some ways, it shaped Tupac as a young man misguided to his own demise. I didn’t like that aspect because it never showed his reflective moments. They hyper-focused on the volatile part of his personality, that sense of duality is never highlighted. There’s also an amount of senseless violence and ass shots within the film. The film seems to not have any lingering theme tying together. The transitions were abrupt and the film seemed lengthy.

There are no pressing lessons to learn from this film that would encourage people to learn more about Tupac. I didn’t feel remotely inspired by this film, though I adore Pac. There are other sources to learn about him;including articles like this or Pac’s own discography. As a person who’s been familiar with his music for a majority of their life; I was disappointed because Tupac is an important figure in contemporary music. He’s one of Rap’s greatest figures, featured on several popular publications. The movie could’ve focused more on his activist roots, relationship to the Black Panther Party, and the relationship he had with his mother. We see glimpses of these stories but they’re underutilized and are ignored which could have potentially provided more depth in the storytelling.

The visuals are great and fans of Hip-Hop aesthetics will enjoy this film. It’s not the ideal biopic for Tupac but it was a nice attempt. People looking for something entertaining should look into this film. People looking for a piece of work that belongs to the cannon of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X or Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, shouldn’t look here. The MPAA rating of the movie is R, so be weary of the violence and sexual depictions. The film is a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes. The film could’ve have been much better if it was handled with more care. In the Hollywood fashion, it seemed to focus on a lot of the tropes, taking away from the realism that should’ve been present. It made a lot of the notable figures grotesquely hyper aggressive, laden with anti-woman sentiments, and loud. While hip-hop contains those things, fans of Tupac recognize that he internalized/struggled with the aforementioned and even spoke out against it. Many of the messages found in his music that were contradicting, were understated by this film. The film didn’t touch about his relationship with Christianity; nor did it address his depression or prevailing paranoia. Tupac’s life deserved better than this film. I hesitate to send folks to watch it but I recommend watching 2008’s Tupac Resurrection, a film by documentarian Lauren Lazin. I do hope this film is a lesson in taking more care for our legends and bypassing antiblack sentiments. All Eyez On Me is a shadow of what could’ve been an important biopic.

Author: Brittney Maddox

Editor: Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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