June 16 will be the date of what would have been rapper/actor/activist Tupac Shakur’s 46th birthday; instead, it’ll be the day on which the revolutionary multi-hyphenate, who was murdered at 25, cinematically honored, albeit through one of the most traditionally dull filmmaking forms. All Eyez on Me, the Tupac biopic, is coming this summer, and an extended trailer has just been released.
Despite the shortcomings of the genre, the movie is intriguing insomuch as it’s exhilarating to see an interpretation of a beloved, influential figure with a resonant political legacy; Shakur was outspoken in his opposition to the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of black men. The question of how this movie treats that legacy certainly makes this film worthy of attention, beyond simply revivifying an icon. (If that’s what you’re looking for, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly track “Mortal Man” — an imagined conversation between Lamar and Shakur, using clips of an old interview Tupac gave before he died — does the revivifying act with far more conceptual grace and simplicity than most biopics could ever hope to.)
He was vilified during his life by lawmakers and others and then you fast forward to the recent past and you have his poetry being used in Powerade commercials, you have the Vatican in 2009 using his music on their MySpace page…He has become a voice for people who feel alienated, who feel marginalized by political or social systems, and I think the fact that he, in the minds of listeners or fans, really gave voice to their sense of alienation or their grievances, is what continues to make him such a powerful and resonant figure.
All Eyez on Me was helmed by ubiquitous rap/hip-hop music video director Benny Boom, and stars Tupac-resembling newcomer Demetrius Shipp, Jr. The addition of Jamal Woolard, who played Biggie in 2009’s Notorious, makes this seem like something of a cinematic universe; Woolard is reprising the role of the Notorious B.I.G. here, as seen in the trailer. Dominic L. Santana, meanwhile, is shown as producer/Death Row label head Suge Knight. The film also stars Danai Gurira (Afeni Shakur), Lauren Cohan (Leila Steinberg), Stefon Washington (Puff Daddy), and Jarrett Ellis (Snoop Dogg).
Another recent, acclaimed gangsta rap origin story proved that these narratives are very much in demand: On top of receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Straight Outta Compton did wildly well at the box office, not just for a biopic, but for any mid-budget film.
Watch the trailer for All Eyez on Me: