On August 14, one of the most highly anticipated biopics of the year will be released nationally. Straight Outta Compton, which documents the rise and ensuing events of the legendary rap group N.W.A. is not only being lauded for the well-crafted film, but also the manner in which the promotional campaign tactics have taken a life of its own. Recently, Washington, D.C. powerati were privy to an intimate discussion with one of the film's executive producers where they were given not only insider insight behind the making of the film but also tips and thought-leadership regarding applying and leveraging Straight Outta Compton's huge success in outreach and campaigning. The mash-up of entertainment and public policy worlds in this particular manner is rare and yielded some interesting surprises.
This was about having a seat at the table of discussion about how best to connect with people in an era where the noise of images, notifications, videos, and texts are a standard part of everyone's day. But somehow the promotion around this film has managed a great coup. While under low light at L2 Lounge in Georgetown and amidst a tasting of Whistle Pig rye whiskey, attendees embarked on a nearly two hour Q&A journey with one of the film's executive producers, Bill Strauss. Strauss kicked off the event by explaining his previous interaction with the hip hop and film worlds and then proceeded to recount the deep, insider journey of securing music rights for the film from the widow of the late Ruthless Records head and N.W.A. group member, Eazy E.
The discussion then moved into the uncanny film release timing and current relevancy provided by Ferguson, et al, and police encounters still taking place today. When questioned if he thought if policy makers across the country were ready for interaction with a new millennial mindset that demonstrates a level of outspoken dialogue coupled with the distribution power of digital platforms regarding perceived and growing social inequalities, Strauss explained, "I definitely follow politics, and, of course, have followed the variety of events around police encounters with citizens of color. We are living in very interesting times. I am not sure if policy makers are quite ready for the level of new strategy and communication and, really, engagement that is, and will be needed. Additional experts from new and innovative areas will be key in helping them to create new methodologies."
What might not be seen as quite as innovative and not quite "politically correct" is just a bit around the portrayal of women in the film. An exchange regarding early casting controversy rating women sought on an A-D level was had in addition to the limited screen time of the supportive, self-assured, and thoughtful mates of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy E portrayed by the various actresses. Strauss, whose jurisdiction the previously mentioned did not encompass, provided a thoughtful and poised response. But it might be interesting to note that in addition to this casting faux pas, there are not even brief walk-ons of actresses who could have easily portrayed rap artist Yo-Yo (protege of Cube), Lady of Rage (a meaningful part of the Death Row camp at a critical point), and a few others in order to balance out the quick flashes of Lynch Mob and 2Pac who are used to illustrate the main character's rise, progression, and affiliations. This, in addition to the fact that some of the other female characters in the film are slammed by battering rams, hurled by refrigerator doors, and literally thrown at high velocity by male characters, could raise a few eyebrows in what could be perceived as a nearly perfect product.
Another component associated with the film which is moving at high velocity is the highly successful digital component and to which the evening's conversations definitely included. The impressive phenomenon of the "Straight Outta" meme which has been created by, seemingly a collaborative effort between Universal Studios/Beats by Dre. The application, which is easily downloaded, has been burning up the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook platforms with everything from everyone's hometown to Meek Mill disses. In a move of pure marketing genius, the app allows any user to insert a hometown or anything that may be on one's mind. Thousands upon thousands of memes have been created and shared, both domestically and internationally; and the user action has creatively driven a massive promotional awareness campaign for the film's opening weekend. When asked about political implications of such tactics, Strauss agreed that such a response from the public regarding the meme signifies a true paradigm shift. We are consistently moving away from not only one way and two-way communication but more toward multi-way communication. "People are sharing and commenting on each other's posts like crazy. It's something that so many people can identify with!" he added. Those in the political space who are responsible for crafting messaging can definitely apply this phenomenon to current and upcoming strategies. The take-away is to empower and enable others with an opportunity actually buy-into and co-brand with your messaging, thereby setting off a mini-movement. To be successful, however, such applications from the pop culture world must be executed creatively and tie-into some form of socio-cultural norm that sparks an emotional response, rather than the staid Beltway approaches often seen. It is important to note that forward thinking non-profits such as USA for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has already taken the cue and applied it in a dynamic manner.
Thus, Hollywood and politics co-existed peacefully for a few hours under one roof, yielded intriguing insight, and elicited some laughs - all in the name of one of the most powerfully connecting forces on the planet: the pop culture revolution known as hip hop and one of its crown jewels, N.W.A.
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