Lifetime’s latest original movie, “Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le,” made it debut on Saturday night, with its own unique spin on the now famous lore of the Compton rap scene. The film, told from the perspective of Michel’le Toussaint, acts as the flipside to the story brought to the big-screen in 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton.”
Barely mentioned in the N.W.A. biopic, Toussaint teamed with screenwriter Dianne Houston to bring her history with the group — Dr. Dre, in particular — to life. It’s a darker tale, to be sure, and one that is mired in both physical and substance abuse. While the events depicted in “Surviving Compton” began roughly 30 years ago, the subject matter feels as relevant as ever.
But just how different is “Surviving Compton” from “Straight Outta Compton?” Here are four glaring difference between the two films.
Michel’le’s the storyteller
“Straight Outta Compton” may have been a movie that touched on many well known hip hop artists — N.W.A., Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Tupac, to name a few — but it really is Dr. Dre’s story. Following Andre Young from his early days spinning records in his bedroom to the beginning of his glory days with Aftermath Entertainment.
“Surviving Compton,” however, is completely Michel’le’s (Rhyon Nichole Brown) story and with it, comes certain details not found in Dre’s story. From the opening moments of the film to its conclusion, domestic abuse is key factor driving home the singer’s tale of her own struggle with power and identity.
Michel’le isn’t just the voice behind the story, she’s the actual voice of the film. Toussaint narrates “Surviving Compton” and even shows up throughout the movie — breaking the fourth wall — to add an extra layer of personal meaning to the plot as it unfolds on-screen.
Jerry Heller, the hero
The feud between Jerry Heller and the members of N.W.A. is well known among both industry insiders and music fans alike. In short, Heller took advantage of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella with deals that fattened his pockets while leaving the majority of the group consistently broke.
But while Heller (Paul Giamatti) was presented as a manipulative villain — even though you kind of felt sorry for him — in “Straight Outta Compton,” Jamie Kennedy presents a different version of Heller in the Lifetime film. Not only is he portrayed as a mentor to Michel’le, he’s often viewed as a voice of reason amid a world of drugs and violence.
Suge Knight… in shining armor
For all intents and purposes, Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) is a bad dude. We know this. It’s not new information. However, “Surviving Compton” does shed some light on the big man’s softer side… if only for a small chunk of time.
“Straight Outta Compton” did a pretty great job showing Suge’s influence on Dre and their team-up with Death Row Records. It also displayed the man’s dark, violent side — which is something that has been well documented over the years. But what “Surviving Compton” does is show Knight as a man who was kind and generous to Michel’le at her absolute lowest point.
He helped her get into rehab, he kept food on the table for Michel’le and her son Marcel and offered her some much needed stability when there was none. The two eventually married and had a daughter together. And then, of course, Knight’s true colors shined through in the form of threats, physical abuse and fraudulent marriage papers.
Dr. Dre is a monster
He may have been the hero in “Straight Outta Compton,” but Andre Young — better known as Dr. Dre — is something else entirely in “Surviving Compton.” By the time he meets Michel’le, he already has babies with other women. That detail was omitted from the N.W.A. biopic, as was his 10-year relationship with the R&B singer.
Throughout their decade together, Toussaint alleges multiple acts of abuse which includes a broken nose and cracked ribs. In the Lifetime film, Dre (Curtis Hamilton) chokes Michel’le in front of the N.W.A. crew, shoots a gun at her in their house, punches her in the stomach in a crowded studio and even lifts a hand to her while she’s holding their baby.
It’s a lot to deal with, throughout the film’s two hours and contests the image Dre has built for himself over the past few decades. But he did own up to past mistakes and The New York Times published his public apology, saying, “I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.”
Yet, “Surviving Compton” closes with these words appearing on-screen: “Dr. Dre, through his attorney, denies abusing Michel’le and challenges her credibility.”
“Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le” premiered Saturday, Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.