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Imagine if your mother was in charge of producing a film about your life. Would she leave out a few things that make you look bad, and do everything she could to put your best face forward? Of course she would. Now consider the fact that Tupac: Resurrection's executive producer is slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur's own mother. Is the result a bit biased? You bet.
For instance, on the night of April 11, 1992, state trooper Bill Davidson was shot and killed by 19-year-old Ronald Ray Howard after Davidson pulled the teen over for a routine traffic violation. Although conceding their client's guilt, Howard's legal defense team argued that the cop-killing lyrics of Tupac Shakur motivated him—an assertion that Davidson's widow, Linda Sue Davidson, echoes. Similarly, on Sept. 7, 1994, two bored 17-year-olds called for a policeman to handle a nonexistent disturbance in their Milwaukee, Wis., neighborhood for the sole purpose of killing a cop. Officer William Robertson had the misfortune of being dispatched to the site where he was fatally shot with a high-power rifle. As with Ronald Ray Howard, one of the boys later admitted he was inspired by lyrics from a recording by Shakur that depict cop-killing as glamorous and heroic. Moviegoers watching Tupac: Resurrection don't get this view of the controversial rapper. It's not that Tupac's mom completely ignores her son's troubled past and long rap sheet. It's just that by film's end, the overall impression is that Shakur isn't really a negative societal influence and criminal, but rather a falsely accused victim, misunderstood wise guy and even a positive role model.
Tupac: Resurrection isn't a movie as much as it is a VH-1 Behind the Music-style documentary. It opens on the corner of Flamingo and Koval in Las Vegas, where Tupac was fatally shot. Then, before introducing the details of his murder, it travels back in time to his mother's Black Panther involvement and pregnancy (“My mother was pregnant with me in prison; I was cultivated in prison, my embryo was in prison”), and proceeds to move forward from there. Using only the words of Tupac himself, Tupac tells the story of the rapper breaking the chains of poverty to achieve the pinnacle of commercial success.
Tupac denounces three aspects of his life as negative—being raised without a father, battling an immense ego and prison life. Regarding the latter, the rapper admits he once thought going to jail helped make a man a man—a belief he came to reject after experiencing incarceration. As for the other two, the following lines make a case for fatherhood and humility: "I never knew who my father was for sure. ... If I had a father, I would have had more discipline and been taught to be a man. ... I needed a father. ... I'm arrogant, totally arrogant. ... My ego was out of control. ... I had to get humble again."
Tupac is portrayed as a deeply spiritual man. Moviegoers hear him say such things as, “I believe this is all in God's hands and I'm very appreciative to God for all I've gotten to do” and, “I want to be an angel for God.” In addition to showing Tupac on the cross (an album cover), statues and paintings of Jesus are shown several times for spiritual effect.
Several rappers are shown on stage simulating sexual intercourse with life size dolls. Various Tupac video clips feature bikini-clad women, one in a bathtub with the rapper. Complaining that Janet Jackson's handlers once asked him to get an AIDS test before doing a movie love scene with her, Tupac comments, “I'll take four AIDS tests if I can really make love with Janet.” Tupac speaks of loving women “like [Prince] loved women.” A video cameraman catches Tupac and two other men trying to seduce a woman (her face is digitized), pulling down her top's straps (no nudity is shown).
Tupac often waxes philosophical, sometimes morally. On one occasion he explains how it's okay for a woman to sleep with a lot of men unless she does it for money. Despite a jury that found otherwise, Tupac claims he is innocent of forced sodomy. His view: The woman performed oral sex on him prior to the incident and that any claim she made beyond that was untrue. Tupac boasts that he had sex with Notorious B.I.G.'s wife.
The film highlights an incident in which Tupac was shot five times by an unknown assailant. It also gives details about his murder. Several songs applaud gun use. At one point, Tupac claims he should have committed suicide like Kurt Cobain to escape his problems.
Crude or Profane Language
Like one of Tupac's CDs, the movie contains explicit and obscene language. There are more than 50 f- and s-words (plus the ones used in various "background" rap songs). Add to that crude references to sexual anatomy and activity, a number of obscene gestures and abuses of the God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Talking about his early days, Tupac admits to selling drugs “for two weeks” and using “weed.” He also mentions his mother's crack habit. It becomes quite clear, though, that smoking marijuana is not just a past tense activity. Tupac is often shown holding a blunt, and tells of allowing some guys into his hotel room just because they had marijuana. Interestingly, Tupac blames marijuana use for his depression (“I was so deep into the weed at that point I wanted to die”). He also smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol. At one point, he claims that getting drunk helped him keep his sanity. Snoop Dogg drinks on a Tupac video clip.
Other Negative Elements
While this docu-film's creators occasionally allow Tupac to be transparent and admit he had some flaws, they (his mother among them) obviously want him to be remembered as a misunderstood man who thought outside of the box and worked for the betterment of society. It's noted that Tupac faced fierce criticism from the likes of Dr. C. Delores Tucker (“We're tired of being called hos, b--ches and sluts by our children”), Bill Bennett, Bob Dole and Rev. Calvin Butts, but none of these voices of reason are allowed the screen time they deserve (to tell the truth) and are only interjected in the “script” to further develop the depths of Tupac's struggle and oppression. Conservatism is irrelevant here, and the gist is that people who feel this way are intolerant and ignorant. This, despite the fact that Tupac, at one point commenting on lyrical influence, admits he hasn't figured it all out.
Elsewhere, he comments, “J. Edgar Hoover's job was to destroy any black man coming up.” President Ronald Reagan is portrayed as a man with no concern for the poor and oppressed. Tupac seems to honestly believe that his pro-drug, pro-violence, obscene and anti-women musical tirades are actually making a positive difference in society (“I'm gonna show the most graphic details [in song lyrics] so I can change [society]. ... 'I don't give a f---!' is the same as Patrick Henry's 'Give me liberty or give me death'”). Footage of an angry Tupac spitting at cameramen gets screen time.
Do we really want to hold up Tupac Shakur as an example of a life well lived? As a role model for young people? Apparently so. MTV Films and Afeni Shakur certainly think so. Glossing over the deeply troubling aspects of Tupac's life and personality, what is left is a documentary depicting this rapper as a Martin Luther King Jr.-type, fighting for greater freedom for the oppressed. The movie closes with Tupac uttering what may have been his life's primary philosophy, “Keep your head up—do what you gotta do!” Deep stuff, huh?
With better narration and some major editing of profanity and distorted philosophy, Tupac: Resurrection could have been a cautionary tale of what not to do with one's life. As it is, this one-sided and skewed "historical" account assaults moviegoers with undeserved praise for a thug lifestyle that proved shallow even for Tupac himself. What young people need to see is a man who lived a bankrupt life based on bankrupt principles. Instead, what they get is a man put on a pedestal for selling 33 million albums and starring in several movies—as if these "accomplishments" are more important than personal integrity and character.