Hip hop artists acting in full length feature films can be a disaster (I’m not naming names though). Sometimes artistic ability simply doesn’t translate well, medium from medium. However, you know what rapper translated well onto the silver screen? Tupac Shakur. Perhaps performing in Shakespearean plays while studying at the Baltimore School for the Arts gave him the advantage or maybe it was simplely his animated persona that seemed to look so good on film. Either way, part of my die hard Tupac obsession during my childhood involved me watching every single film he’s been in in an attempt to get better acquainted with this man. It was during my research that I came to realize that I genuinely enjoyed his films entertainment wise. I’ve also seen a few documentaries about him and there’s a whole list that I’ve yet to get my hands on to watch. I’ll give you a breakdown of all his films so that you can determine which movie you’d like to watch today, because after all, it is his birthday today!
So my favorite all time movie staring Tupac is Gridlock’d. I may have mentioned this somewhere before. It was released in 1997 and directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall. Tupac stars alongside Tim Roth and the elegant Thandie Newton. The three actors play roommates who happen to also be in a band call Eight Mile Road (the film is set in Detroit). Now, the problem with Tupac and Roth is that they’re drug addicts. After their roomate Newton overdoses and has to be hospitalized, they decide to kick their habit. The majority of the film follows them over the course of one catastrophic day as they attempt to enter a drug rehabilitation program. Unfortunately enemies, unsympathetic drones in public healthcare offices and bureaucracy in general provide many obstacles that stand in the way of the pair’s journey to self-betterment. The film was released after Tupac’s death and the use of the number 7 as “L’s” in the diner’s menu prompted a frenzy for many conspiracy theorists.
Now, as a sucker for love, Poetic Justice comes in at a very close second. In addition to being a sucker for love, I happen to also be a sucker for dysfunctional relationships and this film has all the works. The film was released in 1993 and directed by John Singleton. It stars the criminally gorgeous Janet Jackson and Regina King and features appearances by Q-Tip and Maya Angelou as well as the uncredited Keanu Reeves. The film is about the complex relationship between Tupac and Jackson. She’s a poet working in a hair salon and he’s a postal worker named Lucky who’s just trying to earn a living so he can take care of his beloved daughter Keisha. The pair, alongside King and her boyfriend, decide to a take a road trip to a hair show Oakland. The foursome end up on a couple of detours before Jackson, who was initially uninterested in Tupac develops some emotions. I’m not going to give it all away, but let’s just say that the film is a perfect portrayal of the complications that arise in any relationship. Its not a Hollywood fairytale romance. It’s a film that explores the genuine hardship and struggle that goes hand in hand with sharing a life with someone.
In Juice, released in 1992 and directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, Tupac scared the hell out of me. For anyone who hasn’t so much as taken an introductory course in psychology, you quickly start to see him exhibit sociopathic tendencies, which is so far removed for the caring person I know Tupac to be. The film stars Omar Epps, Khalil Kain, Jermaine Hopkins and Samuel L. Jackson. The film centres around Epps, Kain and Hopkins’ gang, The Wrecking Crew, in Harlem. These boys prove that boys will be boys, engaging in petty theft and overall bad behaviour. Unfortunately, they’re often harassed by a local Puerto Rican gang as well as the neighborhood police. Eventually, the gang devises a plan to help earn them respect. Unfortunately, the situation ends up messier than it was before. Tupac becomes addicted to “juice,” which is explained in the film and the scene where he’s hugging and comforting Kain’s mother? Well, those are the sociopathic tendencies I was referring to. Watch the film to find out for yourself.
If you’ve ever had hoop dreams or known someone who did, then you just might want to watch Above the Rim. Released in 1994 and directed by Jeff Pollack, the film stars Duane Martin and Leon Robinson alongside Tupac. The film is about Martin, who waits in anticipation to find out whether he’s been accepted to Georgetown University on a scholarship. He ends up having to make some hard life choices like whether to stay on the straight and narrow or to follow Tupac’s character, a local thug. Furthermore, his mother begins to fall in love with Robinson (Martin’s coach), who is trying to recruit to take his place, and this doesn’t sit well with him.
For those artists into film noir, Gang Related starring James Belushi, Dennis Quaid and James Earl Jones alongside Tupac may appeal most to your taste. Directed by Jim Kouf and released posthumously in 1997, the film is about Tupac and Belushi, two police detective partners who just do happen to be as corrupt as the criminals they put in jail. After a drug-related incident gone wrong (featuring Kool Moe Dee!) the film gets super complicated. No one is who they say they are, which is a major inconvenience for Tupac and Belushi who are trying to find anyone to take the fall for a murder that they’ve committed. If you stop paying attention for just one minute, you may find yourself lost so I suggest giving your full attention to this film. It’s definitely more on the intellectual side of crime films.
Bullet is another crime film starring Mickey Rourke (unfortunately while he was still playing cut and paste with his face via plastic surgery), Donnie Wahlberg and Adrien Brody alongside Tupac. It was released just one month after Tupac’s death in 1996 and was directed by Julien Temple. The film is about Rourke, who has just been released from prison and Tupac, a local drug kingpin and their attempt to settle a score after an altercation in prison. Its definitely a gory film with many depressing elements that shows just how far gone people can be after resorting to a life of crime. I found the end to be a plot twist…and that rat? Ugh, so gross.
And finally is Tupac’s first film appearance. It was in a movie called Nothing But Trouble and it starred Demi Moore, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. Released in 1991 and directed by Dan Aykroyd, the film received very negative reviews from critics. Tupac’s appearance was very brief as he was seen with the group Digital Underground (perhaps that’s why the film flopped). I could start explaining what the film is about but its kind weird…lots of stereotypes of small town people and just an overall bizarre feel. Tupac also has an uncredited role in Snoop Dogg’s short film Murder Was The Case: The Movie. I mean, its okay. Its kind of like an extended music video, if you’re into films like that.
In terms of documentaries, my personal favorite is Tupac: Resurrection. The narrator is in fact Tupac, which gives you the impression that he’s still with us and it offers up a lot of intimate detail that was previously unknown. It was released in 2003 and directed by Lauren Lazin. For fans of both Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie and Tupac may be the documentary for you. Released in 2002 and directed by Nick Broomfield, the documentary also gives intimate details as well as constantly asking the question ‘Who killed these two hip hop legends?’
Tupac has also made a number of television appearances including himself in Drexell’s Class’ season 1 episode entitled “Crusin’” and also as himself in the episode “Ike Turner and Hooch” of season 5’s In Living Color. My personal favorite television appearance of Tupac is from a show I used to religiously watch. His role as Piccolo in A Different World’s season 6 episode “Homie, Don’t You Know Me?” made me blush. I mean, that kiss with Jada Pinkett Smith? I kind of wish that were me…
Tupac also has a biographical film being produced entitled Tupac, that should be released sometime this year and a film entitled Live 2 Tell in which he wrote the screenplay to while in prison is currently in negotiations of being turned into a movie. Very exciting!
Feel free to write me and let me know which film(s) you end up watching! I’m always down to speak with our readers! You can reach me @TheWomansWork