Note: I began writing this essay literally a year ago, and for various reasons left it in draft form. I am now revisiting it in light of Nate Parker’s past coming to light. New comments will be in italics.
I have never raped anyone. In fact, someone has tried to sexually assault me, so I empathize strongly with men and women who have been raped and assaulted, even though I shouldn’t have to have gone through it to understand.
I have never beat anyone up, bilked anyone of their fortune, built my empire on drug money–nothing of the sort.
When I’m 50 and–God-willing–well-known, respected, and accomplished, I don’t think I will receive the same kind of (well-deserved) criticism that Dr. Dre has been receiving about his violent history with women. I am older than Nate Parker by one year, but I’m old enough to have done someone wrong 17 years ago, so I understand that criticism as well.
On one hand, I totally understand why his victims would need to continue to tell their stories in light of the release of Straight Outta Compton. Surely they have always spoken out in whatever forms they had available to them. Why would they be silent just because a movie came out?
Nate Parker’s victim, conversely, as not come out to tell her story–that I yet know of.
As a creator, I also understand why the abuse was not in the film. Straight Outta Compton is the story of the rise of an iconic musical act. It is not an AIDS story–it’s a story in which AIDS happens. It is not a police brutality story–it’s a story in which police brutality happens. In two-and-a-half hours, I think the film tells the parts which are necessary.
I really do believe that. I checked my privilege and found that even though I understand very clearly the points of view of Dr. Dre’s victims, I don’t find it to be revisionist history if I want to focus on the music and the business rather than the abuse. There were other things that were left out, like an entire original member of NWA, but I don’t think the film is worse for not including him.
I have not yet seen Birth of a Nation, but Nate Parker has discussed in interviews his artistic decisions to not depict rape and other brutalities committed against enslaved people. I choose to believe that this is less about the psychic effects of reliving that trauma as a film-goer, and more about the filmmaker’s personal connection to rape and sexual assault.
But that leads me to my original sentiment.
I might not have been an abuser or rapist, but I have made mistakes nonetheless. None are felonies, thank goodness, but if being an asshole was a crime, I am sure I’d be serving a lengthy sentence.
I can’t forgive Dr. Dre because Dr. Dre didn’t do anything to me. Likewise, I can’t forgive Nate Parker because I’m not the one he did wrong–allegedly. But as a fellow artist, and a man who tries to outrun karma, I understand the need for redemption through the art, and to a lesser degree, redemption through philanthropy.
Writing the world’s greatest novels won’t make up for the bullying I purveyed or the gossip I perpetuated. But I do hope that in some way, giving my various gifts to the world can begin to balance the scales.
But to what do I owe the world when my wrong-doings were committed to individuals? I don’t believe that I owe the world a conversation about that. What I believe I owe is my craft and my responsibility to it: to be the best possible writing creating the best possible stories.
I did not boycott Straight Outta Compton. I will not boycott Birth of a Nation. I will continue to separate the mistakes from the artist, especially since neither Dre nor Nate seem to be predators. For me, an established pattern of deviant behavior would be where I draw the line.
I know this won’t earn me many fans, but I have to look at this like a human who is striving to be better through his art. I understand and respect those who may have a different, just as passionate position.
I don’t think I will be apologizing at 50 for things I did when I was 20. I am not a politician. I owe the world great books. That’s it.