How Hollywood Depoliticized the Life and Death of Tupac Shakur

July 23, 2017

All Eyez on Me (2017) is a lavish dramatization of controversial hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur’s brief, tragic, and largely misjudged life.

The motion picture’s emergence more than twenty years after his untimely death is especially significant because it purports to accurately depict the biography of perhaps the most important and provocative black figure since Malcolm X, and does so for an entire generation too young to recall Shakur’s impact and, more importantly, the artist’s relatedness to deep state maneuvers against black enfranchisement and probable ongoing US counterintelligence efforts targeting public figures capable of wielding influence over the public mind.

Production of All Eyez on Me began in 2015 after a tentative 2011 settlement of a legal fight that ensued between the film’s producer, Morgan Creek, and Shakur’s estate. The parties continued to battle in court over production decisions even as Shakur’s mother, former black activist Afeni Shakur, died in early 2016. As the project ensued the film’s creators continued to ignore recommendations of Shakur’s family, particularly the eventual selection of music video producer Benny Boom as the film’s director.

“There’s a whole lot of things that they would not have in the movie that actually happened,” remarked veteran director John Singleton, who was originally approved by the Shakurs to head up the film. “They stole the [film’s] rights from his mother. They made the movie they wanted to make, and hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to tell that story.”

Without its powerful soundtrack and an at times moving portrayal of Shakur’s relationship with his mother, the film is a textbook example of how Hollywood enfeebles innately political subject matter. The viewer is invited to revel in a tediously idealized rendering of a celebrity seemingly doomed by his own naivete, personal lifestyle choices, and the inherent violence of hip-hop culture.

As Singleton suggests, All Eyez on Me succeeds as a carefully constructed tableau of distortion and omission that misses (perhaps intentionally) the powerful socio-political dimensions of Shakur’s activism and expression while casting aside many uncomfortable yet pertinent factors leading to his demise.

“Prevent the Rise of a Messiah”

A most unsettling facet of All Eyez on Me’s narrative is its glaring isolation of US intelligence involvement in Shakur’s life to his early childhood years, a time when he witnessed surveillance and harassment of both parents due to their political activism.

In the same vein, the romanticized depiction of Shakur’s transition from art school dropout to overnight sensation conveniently removes from consideration exactly how Shakur’s combined childhood poverty, black nationalist heritage, activism to quell gang-related violence, and subsequent artistic rise almost certainly made him a target of the very deep state forces then-implicated in the crack cocaine epidemic ravaging black communities.

In the decades following the successful disruption of social movements that began in the 1960s, the targets of US government subversion seldom changed. During this period, however, counterintelligence techniques were steadily refined   To confront various forms of political engagement surging throughout the late 1960s in particular, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s COINTELPRO program “secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ specific individuals and groups.

Close coordination with local police and prosecutors was encouraged,” attorney Brian Glick observes. Despite COINTELPRO’s exposure and congressional investigations, such programs “persisted throughout the 1980s,” becoming “a permanent feature of U.S. government,” with the Black, Native American, and Chicano civil rights movements all subjected to routine surveillance.

One month before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. the FBI set out to focus on “Black Nationalist – Hate Groups,” according to the agency’s own Counterintelligence Program files. The US’s foremost national police force specifically sought to “[p]revent the rise of a messiah’ who could unify, and electrify the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a ‘messiah;’” the document continues,

he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position … King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white liberal doctrines” [nonviolence] and embrace black nationalism.[3, emphasis retained]

While All Eyez on Me depicts the struggle of Shakur’s parents with such abusive forms of law enforcement and surveillance, these experiences are represented as isolated chapters of Tupac’s life that have little-if-any direct relationship to the same forces that appear to have harnessed and misdirected his talents in his last few years. By failing to sufficiently acknowledge how the planned subversion of Black activists and public figures largely defined Shakur’s life path and career, the film succeeds as a classic demonstration of Hollywood whitewash and political miseducation.

Death Row Records: An Intelligence Operation?

Among the most significant and conspicuous features of All Eyez on Me’s depoliticized narrative is its failure to probe the true origins of Death Row Records—the label Shakur contracted with in the months leading up to his death, and its linkages to US intelligence and law enforcement.

In 1995 Shakur had served eight months of a one-to-for year term in an upstate New York prison for a sexual assault charge. Death Row’s director, former professional football player Marion “Suge” Knight, reached an agreement with Shakur to post the $1.4 million bond securing the artist’s release in exchange for his agreement to sign with Death Row.

Careful researchers conclude how thereafter Shakur witnessed his own talents reoriented and depraved under Knight’s tutelage and, more importantly, the darker forces behind Death Row.

Death Row was founded with seed money from Michael “Harry O” Harris, an aide to CIA-linked drug trafficker “Freeway” Ricky Ross, and flamboyant mob-linked Los Angeles attorney Dave Kenner. As the founder and owner of Death Row’s parent company, Godfather Entertainment, Kenner oversaw Knight’s management of Death Row.

Despite a string of serious violent crimes, Knight “seemed untouchable,” historian John Potash observes. “[I]t is most likely that Knight made a deal with police, as they failed to arrest him while he ran Death Row Records, until he completed his most important tasks. These tasks appeared to overlap U.S. intelligence’s agenda.”[4]

Knight’s rapid conversion from easy going and gregarious student and college football player at El Camino College and the University of Nevada Las Vegas to a “remote and serious character” with unusual access to resources suggest that powerful forces had entered his life. “Overnight, he had enough money to rent an apartment by himself and to purchase a series of late-model sedans,” journalist Randall Sullivan notes. “He regularly received visitors from Compton, and developed a reputation as perhaps the biggest drug dealer on campus.”[5]

Indeed, research by Potash and Sullivan point to Death Row’s close involvement with local law enforcement and the Los Angeles Police Department’s enlistment of COINTELPRO-style tactics to infiltrate and control the label. Veteran Los Angeles Police detective Russell Poole “discovered ‘dozens and dozens of police officers were working’ at all levels of Death Row Records. Det. Poole was told these officers could be considered ‘troubleshooters or covert agents.” The recording label’s head of security was also a former LAPD employee who “admitted to having many LAPD officers working for him.”

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