Tupac Biopic ‘All Eyez on Me’ Secures Actors for Major Character Roles, but Can It Move Past the Legal Drama and Actually Succeed?
Tupac boasted in 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted “They wonder how I live with five shots/ Brother’s is hard to kill on my block.” The same lyrics are applicable to his long-gestating biopic, now titled All Eyez on Me. Sentenced to development hell for years after several legal battles between Morgan Creek Productions and Afeni Shakur, the past few weeks put a premium rush on making the biopic.
John Singleton restarted his display of courtship and became attached to the film for the second time in February 2014. About a year later, he walked away from the project again. Soon after, Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress) joined the project as director. Singleton stated at the time through his Instagram post:
Real talk! The reason I am not making this picture is because the people involved aren’t really respectful of the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur. I won’t say much if you want you can read my articles in Hollywood Reporter on authenticity in Black Storytelling … To Pac’s real fans just know I am still planning a movie on Tupac … It doesn’t matter what they do mines will be better… Tupac was much more than a hip hop artist … He was a black man guided by his passions … Of most importance was his love of black people and culture … Something the people involved in this movie know nothing about… Real talk! How you gonna make a movie about a man when you suing his mother to get the rights to tell his story?!
The ship seemed to steady itself in October when Morgan Creek was sued by co-producers Emmett/Furla Oasis for $10 million over breach of their production agreement regarding budgeting and casting. Soon afterward, Franklin walked away. By November’s end, veteran music video director Benny Boom was tapped as the project’s latest helmsman. With Boom, the untitled project became All Eyez On Me and relative unknown actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. was cast as Tupac.
Production started at the tail end of last year, and there has been a slew of casting activity after many years of glacial speed movement. Jamal Woolard was cast as the Notorious B.I.G; many will recollect Woolard playing the late rapper in his own biopic, Notorious. Over the past week, Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”) was cast as Afeni Shakur, Kat Graham was cast as Jada Pinkett, Jamie Hector (“The Wire”) was cast as Tupac’s stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, and another relative unknown, Dominic L. Satana, has been cast as Suge Knight.
The $64,000 question is: Why was there such a rush to start filming at the end of December? While the success of Straight Outta Compton helped give some incentive, the answer is that if filming had not started before the end of 2015, music rights would have reverted back to Afeni Shakur. With the considerable costs of making this biopic, Morgan Creek was pressed to push this film into production. While there’s some good talent involved, a rushed biopic does no one any favors and casts heavy doubt on the end product.
A talented artist, gifted with incredible dexterity as a writer, poet and actor, Tupac Shakur isn’t just the greatest rapper ever, he’s a cultural icon. A well-done Tupac Shakur biopic should rank as one of the greatest biopics of all time. If this film does succeed, all will be forgiven and it wouldn’t be the first with a haunted pre-production history.