Real talk, folks that aren’t African-American and/or weren’t around during the early 1990s may not remember Michel’le. She received a lot of airplay on R&B stations back in the day, along with the likes of Surface, Skyy, Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure! When I was in third grade, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Michel’le’s songs “No More Lies” and “Something in My Heart” playing on the radio. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that she was a part of Ruthless Records, the same label owned by Jerry Heller and Easy-E, which also launched N.W.A. I also recently learned that Michel’le and Dr. Dre had a serious relationship during the height of her career…and that Dre horribly abused her for years. Michel’le finally got to tell the story that unbeknownst to me, she’s been telling for years, in Lifetime’s TV biopic, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le.
In Surviving Compton, the story is told through Michel’le’s eyes, and we learn things that were conveniently left out of Straight Outta Compton. The story reveals how Michle’le got her start with Ruthless Records, and eventually ended up dating Dr. Dre. At first, Michel’le’s career is skyrocketing and her relationship with Dre is a sweet and caring one. However, Dre’s drinking and puffin’ on the good stuff starts to increase, and all hell breaks loose. Thanks to bad advice from her well-meaning, but completely clueless grandmother, Michel’le continues dating Dre and even moves in with him, although his violence towards her escalates more and more. Michel’le tries her best to keep her career going in spite of the beatings she suffers at Dre’s hands, which lead to her own substance abuse problems. She eventually meets Suge Knight, who treats Michel’le like a queen…at first. Suge and Michel’le eventually end up in a relationship themselves, and Michel’le soon learns that she pretty jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Surviving Compton was a very enjoyable film. There were some slight flaws (i.e. Suge Knight watching news footage of Tupac being shot in Las Vegas when he was actually in the car with ‘Pac when he was killed), but for the most part, it was a great movie. For the last three or four years, Lifetime movies have fallen off, especially the biopics. The June Carter movie was shit (sorry, Jewel), and the Aaliyah movie was just as bad, if not worse. But Surviving Compton was very engaging, and never had a dull moment. I actually learned some new bits of trivia in this film, like the fact that Michel’le is close friends with Tichina Arnold (aka Pam from Martin), and that her first single was “Turn Off the Lights” with World Class Wreckin’ Cru. I’d heard that song a million times when I was little, but I never knew who sang it. Rhyon Nicole Brown did a fantastic job as Michel’le. I’ve liked her ever since her days as Lizzie in Lincoln Heights, and as usual, she delivered. Rhyon had Michel’le’s high pitched voice down pat! At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like Michle’le narrating the film in person, but it worked for the film, especially when she got emotional after reliving the first time Dre assaulted her. Just as he did in Straight Outta Compton, actor R. Marcos Taylor reprised his role as Suge Knight, and delivers once again as the evil CEO of Death Row Records. A surprising treat was seeing Jamie Kennedy play the late Jerry Heller. Was he as good as Paul Giamatti? No, but Jamie still did his thing. Last but not least, cutie Curtis Hamilton did an excellent job playing the more sinister side of Dr. Dre.
What I really liked about Surviving Compton is that it not only tells Michel’le’s story, but it also gives us the darker side of Dre’s story, warts and all, unlike its more well known counterpart, Straight Outta Compton. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved Straight Outta Compton (that’s cutie Corey Hawkins playing Dre in SOC in the pic above), and I’ve always been a fan of Dre’s (although this movie really has me giving him the side eye), but there was one thing about the movie that got to me just a little bit—and I’ve told friends and family members this a few times—Dre was portrayed as Dudley Do Right in the major motion picture. Never mind the fact that the film didn’t have any focus on Dre’s relationship with Michel’le or his violent encounter with Dee Barnes, but they even made sure to overlook Dre’s beef with Easy-E. As a matter of fact, everyone else’s faults and shortcomings were portrayed in the film except Dre’s. Surviving Compton, on the other hand, displayed everyone’s faults. Not only did it show Michel’le’s naivety and bad choices in men, and how Dre pounded his fist into the poor girl’s face on a regular basis, but it also showed how the members of N.W.A, some of the hardest men on Earth—or so we were led to believe—watched their friend get beat up right in front of them, and they did nothing. Only Easy came to Michel’le’s defense, whereas the other men were too scared, embarrassed or too apathetic to do anything.
As much as I enjoyed this film, I have to say that it’s left me a bit torn. I’ve loved Dr. Dre since I was 11 years old, and I’m still a big fan of his music and overall genius, but as I said before, I have to give him the side eye now. He apologized for his repulsive behavior towards women last year right before Straight Outta Compton was released, but in the same vein, he also tried to silence Michel’le when he learned she was making this film. Of course, now that I’ve seen the backlash that he’s been receiving since the movie was released, I can see why he was so desperate to keep Michel’le quiet. Folks that saw Surviving Compton have been draggin’ Dre’s ass up and down Twitter and Instagram. Just look at this:
Dang. Sweetie pie, I hope for your sake you really are sorry, because despite the fact that all this happened over twenty years ago, I have a feeling you’re not gonna be able to bounce back from this hate too easily. Hell, I’m not so sure if I want Beats by Dre headphones now (and yes, I’ve heard that damn “Beats by Dre has a new meaning” joke). On one hand, I’m pretty disgusted with Dre, but on the other hand, they do a damn good job of canceling out background noise and making the audio more vibrant. Seriously, those are some damn good headphones!
In all seriousness, Surviving Compton was a very good film, and a throwback to the greatness that was once the Lifetime channel. So if you’re a fan of Michel’le, Lifetime movies, N.W.A, or Straight Outta Compton, I highly recommend this film. Check it out.
By the way, is it me, or are they finding the cutest men to play Dr. Dre?
—Written by Nadiya
So what did you think about Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le? Was it as good or as interesting as Straight Outta Compton? Are you still a fan of Dr. Dre’s after seeing it? Do you believe Michel’le did the film strictly for attention, or because she felt as if the whole truth needed to be put out there? Do you think Dre deserves all the hate he’s getting on Twitter and Instagram, even though all this happened in the late ’80s and early ’90s? Let me know in the comments!