WASHINGTON - Tupac Shakur was a complex man.
If there was ever any doubt about it, then the new bio-pic All Eyez on Me based on the short, yet prolific life of the rapper, actor and social activist cements it in stone.
While the broad public may only remember the man they called “Makaveli” from 90s-era news headlines riddled with stories of crime, gun-shot battles and East Coast versus West Coast rap beefs, followers of his music and movies saw the more poetic side of the New York born, Baltimore raised, Oakland-bred hip-hop artist.
All Eyez on Me delves deeper into Tupac’s life and portrays the artist’s tough childhood in a never-before-seen way. Great Day Washington sat down with the film's creator and producer, L.T. Hutton along with Demetrius Shipp Jr., who plays Tupac Shakur, and Kat Graham, who plays Jada Pinkett.
“A lot of times we criticize people for the choices they make, never understanding what they had to choose from,” says Hutton.
Hutton tells us the choices a young Tupac had to choose from were grim. A crew of gun-laden cops raided his family's New York City apartment on Christmas Day and, as a young boy, he saw his family broken apart when his stepfather was hauled away to prison (never to return again) due to his involvement in the Black Panthers movement.
In order to the escape a life of constant harassment by the FBI, Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, moves her family to Baltimore, where a teenage Tupac begins to thrive. He enrolls in the Baltimore School for the Arts, meets and falls in love with a classmate, a promising young actress by the name of Jada Pinkett. He even wins the lead role in his school’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But before he can settle into his new life, Tupac is forced to move to Oakland, Ca. due to his mother's struggles with making ends meet and drug abuse.
“Every time something good would happen in Tupac’s life—it was like a rhythm—something bad would happen,” says Hutton, who worked closely with Tupac as a music producer for Death Row Records up until the rapper's untimely death in 1996 at the age of 25.
Money, or a lack there of, seemed to be the driving force behind Tupac using his innate talents in the performing arts to develop his career. He had nine platinum-selling albums by age 25.
One constant theme running throughout Tupac’s life is his need for stability at home. Tupac struggled to get out of the streets, while also feeling responsible for the care of his mother and sister. The rap game appeared to be a sure-fire way out, and even acting, but it was hard for artists to get fair contracts and compensation as fast as they could make money by hustling. This, according to the decition in All Eyez on Me, is why Tupac always kept one foot in the streets.
“We’re trying to give you insight into the other side of the man,” says Hutton.
Hutton kept detailed written notes of Tupac’s media interviews over the years in something he likes to call “The Tupac Bible.” The culmination of those notes became the basis for the screenplay.
“It’s what Tupac says,” explains Hutton.
Hutton says Tupac’s mother even gave her blessing for the film before she passed away in May of 2016.
Newcomer to the silver screen Demetrius Shipp, Jr., 28, portrays the iconic rapper. It's a role he had been tied to since 2011 when he first auditioned for the film. Shipp beat out more than 4,000 other actors for the part.
“It’s amazing,” says Shipp. But he gives all the credit to his producer, “L.T. lived that life. He walked with Pac. He worked with him.”
But Shipp is not without his own ties to the rapper. His father, Demetrius Shipp, Sr. produced the song, “Toss It Up” on Tupac’s 1996 album Makaveli. Shipp Sr. also produced music for the 1992 film starring Tupac, Juice.
Former child star and Disney channel actress, Kat Graham, portrays Tupac’s high-school love interest and confidante.
“They had such a cool dynamic and they were such good friends,” says Graham of the duo.
“I definitely reached out to her,” says Graham about Pinkett-Smith. “Because this is obviously a character, but this is very much her life and you want to give respect to that relationship.”
And speaking of respect, producer Hutton, says that’s a virtue he would like to cultivate further in movies beyond All Eyez on Me.
“This film came about because I wanted to create films for us, by us,” says Hutton. “We have a lot of great stories that haven’t been told in Hollywood and I wanted to take on the challenge of actually making those films and doing them with the respect and production value that I think we need.”
All Eyez on Me opens in theaters June 16—Tupac’s birthday. If still living, he would be turning 46.
Markette Sheppard is host of Great Day Washington, the lifestyle morning show on WUSA 9. She is also a wife, mother of a rambunctious 3-year-old and avid movie lover. You can see more of her film previews and reviews weekdays at 9 am.
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