I have a bad feeling about the upcoming movie Straight Outta Compton.
I’m sure the biopic, which will detail the meteoric rise of gangster rap group N.W.A. and is reportedly set for release in August, will be highly entertaining. At one point, the group was even on the radar of the FBI due to an anti-police rap.
What worries me is the very real possibility that the movie will offer a shallow, stereotypical portrayal of Jerry Heller, the group’s Jewish music manager. Rapper Ice Cube (his real name is O’Shea Jackson), is a former lead member of N.W.A. and a producer of Straight Outta Compton. Unfortunately, he also has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks about Heller.
Ice Cube left N.W.A. in 1989, mainly because he felt that Heller wasn’t compensating the group members fairly. The rapper, who at one point in his career referred to white people generally as “devils” and was affiliated with the Nation of Islam, then released a venomous dis track called “No Vaseline.”
Ice Cube rapped about Heller:
It’s a case of divide and conquer, because you let a Jew, break up my crew!
Later in the rap, Cube says of Heller:
Get rid of that devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple. Cuz you can’t be the (n-word) for Life crew, with a white Jew telling you what to do.
There was of course no reason to keep referring to Heller’s religion/ethnicity or to advocate violence, but Ice Cube was unapologetic. A 1991 Los Angeles Times article quoted Ice Cube as saying, “I’m just doing what they do in the media. When they describe someone they often say he’s black or Korean or Muslim. That’s all I’m doing. Saying he’s a Jew doesn’t mean I don’t like Jews or I’m using a negative. I don’t like (Heller), but it’s not because he’s Jewish.”
In Ice Cube’s later album, The Predator, he continued to be unapologetic about his earlier anti-Semitic comments and insinuated that “they” would no longer allow him to refer to Jews in his raps.
“They said I can sing like a jaybird, but (n-word), don’t say the ‘j-word!'” rapped Ice Cube.
Despite the controversy (and other lyrics that were often homophobic, anti-Korean and misogynistic), Ice Cube was never held accountable and went on to become a mogul with a booming movie (including family movies) and music career. Given his past animus towards Jews and lack of remorse, how will Ice Cube the producer portray Jerry Heller (who will be played by Paul Giamatti) in Straight Outta Compton?
Jerry, who wasn’t consulted or asked to participate in the film, seems to fear the worst. “I really don’t know anything about that movie, they haven’t contacted me about it,” he said. “They haven’t asked me to be part of it. I really know very little about it. It’s disappointing to me, but those guys have their own agenda.”
Hopefully my fears are unfounded and Jerry Heller won’t be portrayed as a stereotypical, money-grubbing Jew with no ethics. Ice Cube’s history and involvement in the project, though, suggests there are good reasons to be concerned…
*The movie has already drawn controversy by issuing a racist casting call.