Black Heroes: Fiction vs. Reality

Chike Coleman delves into what separates the cinematic black heroes from a fictional reality from the ones who were inspired by true figures.

There’s more than one way to look at fiction vs. reality, particularly when it comes to the way people establish their heroes.

2018’s Black Panther is a great film. The Marvel Studios film about the fictionalized nation of Wakanda and the King who led his people made over $1.3 billion worldwide at the box office. It’s a movie about how heroes of the past may actually be villains because of their inaction in the daily lives of those who struggle.  Audiences flocked to this film because it provided many black families and those from diverse cultures an insight into what it would look like if a continent or country was affluent and successful instead of poor, as commonly portrayed.

In addition to an area featuring third world nations, Africa, as a continent, can be a vibrant place with diverse commerce and culture at its center. While those aspects of the continent were greatly exemplified in Black Panther, another film captures the black experience much more vividly. This film builds out its location and characters with honesty, integrity, and the heroes don’t need to wear a mask. The movie I’m referring to is Straight Outta Compton.

A successful biopic focused on the story of NWA, Straight Outta Compton tells a much more practical tale of people working from the bottom, only to become a musical success and the struggles that come with that.  Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., takes the lead and does a phenomenal job at embodying the principles his father fought for long before the group was successful.

Still, the film doesn’t present all of these guys as flawless heroes.  In fact, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, in the movie) was a part of the Compton Crips before becoming a member of that band. And the film hints at some of Dr. Dre’s (Corey Hawkins) violent misdeeds, based on reality.

Ice Cube made raps about the crime and violence occurring in Compton at the time. By the time they were successful, their message of anger against the police and the injustices that commonly occurred became an anthem not just for the streets of LA but the entire nation.  NWA did all of their fighting with music and words rather than needing a costume to do it.  The hit, “F*** tha Police,” becomes so successful that they are forbidden from performing it in Detroit, but they do it anyway.  Straight Outta Compton better represents how messy life can become and that no one, no matter how much success they achieve or where they come from, is especially clean.

Straight Outta Compton inspires artists because of how they fought to succeed, even when they had to diss each other.  Black Panther’s struggles stay within the culture built by his ancestors, and the only cost he ever gets hit with is whether or not he should kill a family member who clearly doesn’t have the values his country has stood for over hundreds of years.  Of course, it’s great that T’Challa (portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman) recognizes the error his family made, but beyond that, Straight Outta Compton tells a greater story of success and strife than Black Panther will ever achieve.

Hitting theaters in August 2015, Straight Outta Compton made a respectable $201 million on a $50 million budget. Still, it does a lot more to showcase the difficulties of life and the barriers to success that exist when you’re black. In many ways, Straight Outta Compton will always be the superior film, compared to Black Panther, not only because the stakes are real but because those same struggles are mistakes America keeps dooming itself to repeat, and those stories are always going to be more important than a king in Vibranium no matter how positive you make the influence. We need reality more than we need a hero and Straight Outta Compton demonstrates that better than most.  Sometimes fiction does more harm than good, and that’s the case with these two films.

Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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