F. Gary Gray Q&A: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ director
"I'm hoping it helps with pushing for real change," says director F. Gary Gray in our recent video chat about his hit music biopic "Straight Outta Compton." The acclaimed film traces the rise of inner-city rap group NWA amid racism and police violence. "I was listening to Marvin Gaye yesterday and his song 'Make Me Wanna Holler,' and he talks about police brutality. The line is, 'Don't punish me with brutality.' He was talking about that in the '70s. NWA's 'Fuck the Police' song is a version of that in the next decade, so it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same."
Gray didn't intend for the movie to address the current strained state of race relations in America, "but if it can help change the culture and put pressure on our political leaders, our leaders in law enforcement to do the right thing, then I would be happy about that," he says.
"Compton" focuses on three core members of NWA: Ice Cube (played by Cube's real-life son O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). Eazy-E died of AIDS in 1995, but Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have enjoyed lasting success since their years in NWA and serve as producers of the film.
"My relationships with Ice Cube and Dre go back over 20 years," explains Gray, who directed music videos for both artists in the 1990s, and "with Cube I actually directed my very first movie, 'Friday.' I was 24-years-old, and it was the beginning of both of our careers in film, and it's all come full circle."
Full circle in more ways than one. Ice Cube's son Jackson is 24-years-old now, which is nearly the same age Cube and Gray both were when they made "Friday" two decades ago. "It was great working with Cube in his early 20s, and now working with his son in his early 20s … For me it goes beyond a director and an actor. I'm proud of him because I met him as a kid, and to see him develop and deliver something like this, I just think he's a special kid, a special guy."
Gray will follow "Straight Outta Compton" by directing the upcoming eighth installment in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, and considering the box office success of "Compton" and other ethnically diverse success stories in film and television in recent years, he has hope for greater Hollywood diversity in the future. "Based on the phone calls and some of the meetings I'm taking, it does seem like it's starting to open up … We'll see over the next few years if it's going to stick, and I think it will actually."