Will “Straight Outa Compton” break that special barrier? It’s complicated…but maybe

Because of a (small) family emergency, I had to leave the movie theater before “Straight Outa Compton” was over.  I’ll go back and finish watching it next week. But a couple of things were clear:

1)This was a very sexual movie. The usual groupies and such, but no question what was going on.

2) The movie was an audience pleaser.   Projected to earn 40 million in its first weekend, which means that it might cross the 100 million barrier.

And with that thought, I wanted to clarify things so we can see if it fits the bill.    My statement has been that “no non-white male star can have a love scene in a movie and have that movie cross 100 million domestic”, that number being the standard measurement of wide cultural acceptance.  Why might or might not “SOC” break this barrier?

  1. Definitions of “Love scene.”  Or “Sex scene.”    Every one of the 100 million plus movies with love/sex scenes  (about 22% at last count) have two people meet, exchange names, their relationship builds, they break the personal space wall (dancing, kissing, hugging, etc.) and we develop either to an actual scene (“Titanic”) or we find them in a private space where  they kiss to a fade-out (“Dirty Dancing”).   So anonymous sex doesn’t count.  In “Skyfall” James Bond has anonymous sex with a woman at the beginning, but then actually meets the woman Severine: they flirt, she invites him to her boat, they touch, kiss passionately in a shower, fade-out.
  2. Definition of “star”.  We’re talking about the lead.  First name on the poster.   Without this qualification, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” has a love scene between the secondary characters.   “Traffic” has Michael Douglas’ daughter having anonymous sex with a nameless crack dealer whose ass we see more clearly than his face (yuck).   

“Hot Tub Time Machine” has a scene where the black character is in a hot tub with some hoochie…but I don’t think we hear her name, we never see them touch, and he ain’t the lead.  “Wild Wild West” starts with Will Smith kissing a woman  in a water tower.  I suppose someone could argue that they MIGHT have been having sex (possible, I suppose) but again it is anonymous, we can’t be sure, there is no sense of any connection there at all.  “48 Hours” has Eddie Murphy kissing a woman goodbye in the morning, but I’m not sure we know her name, and none of the build-up present in EVERY film I count as “sexual/love scene” for white actors is there.

Compare to, for instance, the scenes where black women are with white guys: we have “meet cute”, we exchange names, we have heat build, we see them actually in bed (or whatever) together.  Very different.

Now.  “Straight Outa Compton”…there is no single star, really, because it’s about a group. But let’s say the three main leads: Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre.  I suppose any of them count.  

And here’s where it gets odd.  Although there is a LOT of anonymous sex going on here and there, I cannot for the life of me remember one of the main three in bed with a woman.  It seemed like other guys (non-stars, in other words) having sex with groupies.   It might be there, and I might have missed it: I could seriously be wrong.  I’d LIKE to be wrong.   But even if they did…it is anonymous.  Each of them actually has a more “serious” relationship with an actual woman they care about, but oddly, there is no sensual/sexual moment between any of them that I can remember.  I could be wrong, and again I’d like to be.   Like I said, we had to leave the theater.

But it’s going to be fascinating if the movie crosses 100 million, is very sexual, but STILL misses that mark: none of the stars, or anonymous no-name humping, or whatever. Clearly, that would still be closer to the point.

But the real point is that what I think is going on is an unconscious fear of reproductive behavior on the part of males of a competing group.  That ideally means meeting, increasing attraction, sexual behavior, falling in love, bonding, marrying, raising a family (not always precisely in that order).

What I noticed was that minority males don’t get this arc, and when they do, white audiences don’t support it.  This is a denial of “inwardness” or humanity on a pretty basic level, and I believe the aversion pattern, visible here, can be seen in countless other aspects of American life: employment, law enforcement, the justice system, politics, life expectancies, etc.  Clearly, established families can be portrayed. And romantic interests.  But the sexual has been the missing “link.”

Now, quite possibly, the sexuality is there in a film that might well cross 100 million.  But it is still not part of the full arc necessary to reproduce genes and memes.   But closer.

It really is fascinating.   By the way, I was enjoying the hell out of the movie up until we had to leave. It was dynamic, funny, tragic, honest, and mythologizing.   I recognized so many aspects of black life as I experienced it, and have been told countless times that I and others simply didn’t experience what we experienced.  I can only shake my head at the snoring children.

I’ll get back to you after I’ve seen the rest of it. One thing is certain: we’re creeping up on that line. Maybe it’s just inflation.  After all: the “100 million” in 1990 dollars would be 185 million today.   But…I haven’t changed the line, because that would be too depressing.  I’d rather claim the small victory, and thought we might get it last year, or this year with “Focus”, and didn’t.

“Straight Outa Compton” might squeak across the line. Just might.  We’ll see.   But if it’s an anonymous hoochie, I’m holding my nose.


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