*Tupac Shakur’s impact is still as resonating and as palpable as ever, and hitting theaters on what would’ve been the late rapper’s 46th birthday, comes director Benny Boom’s highly anticipated film “All Eyez On Me.”
Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., who bears and uncanny resemblance to Pac, the film follows the true story of the prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist, from his early days to his status as one of the world’s most influential voices. Shipp’s father actually worked with Tupac on one of his later albums.
The star-studded cast includes Kat Graham as childhood friend Jada Pinkett, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper, Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls, “The Walking Dead’s” Danai Gurira as Afeni Shakur and Annie Ilonzeh.
The film is named after Shakur’s fourth album and the last one released before he was fatally gunned down in Las Vegas in September 1996. More than 20 years later, his murder case remains unsolved.
EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with two of the writers, Eddie Gonzalez (“Empire,” “Gang Related,” “Street 2: Motor City”) and Jeremy Haft (“Tamara” and “Grizzly Mountain”), about how they approached the writing process for such an important film and what viewers can look forward to when they head to the theatre this weekend.
OTHER NEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Kat Graham Talks Playing Jada Pinkett Smith in TuPac Biopic ‘All Eyez on Me’ [EUR Exclusive]
While “All Eyez On Me” has certainly had its ups and downs through the development process, Gonzalez and Haft have crafted a narrative that could end up being one of the most talked-about movies of the year.
In order to capture Pac’s spirit and inspiration for this film, the duo relied heavily upon the memories, conversations and creative imput from those closest to the artist, including members of Digital Underground and Pac’s group the Outlawz. Producer L.T. Hutton also served as a vital source for further insight into the man, the mystery and the myth.
The Tupac biopic was first announced back in 2011, when director Antoine Fuqua signed on to direct, but he eventually parted ways with the project. John Singleton took over in 2014 but he left a year later, and Carl Franklin came onboard to replace him.
In late 2015, Benny Boom replaced Franklin and that’s when the project finally started coming together. The movie originally had the support of Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, but she ended up quitting the project and countersuing the film’s production company, Morgan Creek, for $10 million over the rights to her son’s music. The writers did not have the opportunity to speak with Afeni before she passed, but viewers will see the effects that drugs and imprisonment had on the activist.
Hutton recently revealed that Singleton and Pac were not on good terms before he died. He believes the “Boyz in Da Hood” director would have tarnished Pac’s legacy because he wanted to include too many sex scenes, including one that involved Afeni in a threesome and Pac being raped in jail.
Gonzalez and Haft’s vision of Pac follows his rise from the rough streets of NYC to the top of the charts, his imprisonment and as the crown prince of Suge Knight’s Death Row Records. “All Eyez On Me” examines how Pac’s personal relationships helped shape his artistry and activism, and most notably, his personal life. The writers take note to highlight the impact that education and Shakespeare had on his art. Pac himself used to say his writing was influenced by the famous works of Shakespeare. In “All Eyez on Me,” Afeni visits her son in jail and quote Shakespeare, “Above all else, to thine own self be true.”
Tupac sold over 75 million records worldwide; of which his album “All Eyez On Me” sold over 10 million copies. A personal favorite for both Gonzalez and Haft, “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” a track from Pac’s second solo album, which was inspired by his frustrations with black poverty, police injustice, and his perceived persecution from politican Dan Quayle.
One of the key themes explored in the Tupac biopic is loyalty, and viewers will also learn the impact Shakur’s parents had on his on relationships with women, namely Kidada Jones and Jada Pinkett. Fans might also be surprised to know that there’s a 4,000-page FBI file on him.
Gonzalez, a hip-hop aficionado born and raised in south L.A., channeled the passion of rap pioneers such as Public Enemy to help connect to the energy of Pac. For the writers, the most satisfying aspect of this experience was simply finding the essence that excited not only them, but the key players in Pac’s life and the fans.
The writers set about trying to determine what kind of film they wanted by navigating through the insurmountable odds that Shakur faced in his childhood, the influence of his Black Panther mom, being a theater kid, a hip-hop star, his movie fame, criminal drama (and rape case), rap feuds then tragically not surviving one of his many gun battles at the age of 25. Quite a daunting task trying to unpack the life of this cultural icon whose career and persona both continue to grow long after his passing.
“All Eyez On Me” was handled by people who knew Pac, and the fact that these two writers are not black simply confirms that the love for Shakur transcends race and spans borders and ethnicities.
Gonzalez and Haft are sure that if Tupac was alive, he would give them a seal of approval for brining his journey to the big screen, but “he wouldn’t be happy that Trump is president,” Gonzalez says.
Twenty years since his sudden demise, Tupac Shakur remains a fascinating figure in the history of music and the hip-hop movement.
“All Eyez On Me” is now playing in theaters nationwide.