November 18, 2003

Tupac Shakur narrates thug life from the grave
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

Las Vegas. Sept. 7, 1996. One dead. No suspects.

While the rest of the world argues over Tupac Shakur's life and death, a new film by director Lauren Lazin allows Tupac himself to explain the tragedy. Uncharacteristically, he apparently has little to say.

"I got shot."

Tupac's unsettling tendency to speak about himself in the past tense, along with his disposition towards self-prophesy, allowed Lazin to use the deceased artist as the narrator in her film Tupac: Resurrection. "This is my story, a story about ambition, violence, redemption, and love," Tupac explains.

Viewed as a documentary, the film has many flaws. The cut and paste method of putting together audio snippets in an effort to make a cohesive narration fails at certain points and begs serious questions about journalistic integrity. The film should instead be enjoyed as another opportunity to appreciate firsthand Tupac's charismatic presence and surprising humor.

The movie follows the chronological path of Tupac's surreal development from a dorky teenager enrolled in the Baltimore School of the Performing Arts, where he studied acting and ballet, to a homeless street hustler with a mother addicted to crack, to the best selling rap artist of all time involved in a deadly feud with another hip-hop legend, to getting shot five times and then convicted of sexual abuse the next day.

Both socially conscious and unabashedly irreverent, Tupac's legacy will forever be defined by contradiction. Nowhere is his hypocrisy more acute than in his depiction of women; he defines himself as a feminist yet demonstrates himself as a misogynist, often in the same breath. The film affords Tupac the opportunity to explain himself, often first admitting his own weaknesses and then going on to prove himself not a contradiction, but a paradox.

The film does not shy away from Tupac's many flaws and offers a relatively balanced portrayal that avoids the expected hagiography. Surprisingly, Tupac seems to be the only one who managed to avoid exaggerating his own importance. He accepted his own limitations and admitted his weakness, yet also realized his profound influence. "I may not change the world," he said, "but I will set the spark off in the mind that does."

At its best, the movie offers Tupac the chance to speak uninterruptedly to the audience. His greatest gift was his profound insight into the plight of the poor in America. He narrates, "I did not create thug life; I diagnosed it ... I don't understand why America doesn't understand thug life. What makes my freedom less worth fighting for than Bosnians or whoever [America] wants to fight for this year?"

Tupac carried the torch of the Black Panthers into the new century, teaching young black men to be proud and proactive after being frustrated with begging for an illusionary equality that white America, from Tupac's perspective, never intended to grant.