Star Demetrius Shipp Jr. and director Benny Boom on why Tupac remains relevant
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Tupac Shakur has now been dead for 20 years. And yet, as the new biopic All Eyez On Me shows, the late rapper still looms large in the American consciousness. The film stars Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Shakur and gives a comprehensive overview of Tupac’s life, from his childhood and complicated relationship with mother Afeni (Danai Gurira) to his time in jail to his friendship-turned-rivalry with The Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from the 2009 biopic Notorious). In doing so, it shows off the charisma and excitement that made Tupac one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time.
“I think what he represents is this rebel spirit,” director Benny Boom says. “We all loved him and wanted to be him — he had those Steve McQueen qualities, James Dean qualities. I think he speaks to that edge. Everybody at some point wants to live life on the edge and live life the way they want to live it and forget about consequences. He embodied that. He was also a messenger, and like a lot of messengers, once the message is delivered, they’re gone.”
All Eyez On Me is landing at a time when the border between culture and politics feels more porous than ever. Donald Trump was famously a former reality star before being elected president, and both culture and criticism have seen an uptick in awareness of political issues and minority representation in recent years. Shakur, of course, was no stranger to blending politics and culture. Though he pumped out plenty of party jams (“I Get Around”), much of Shakur’s music also gave detailed descriptions of the oppression facing black Americans and other marginalized people (“Holler If Ya Hear Me”). For Shipp, whose resemblance to the rapper is uncanny, Shakur’s message is what has made his music endure.
“He was real, he had a message, and he spoke for the people — impoverished people of all classes,” Shipp says. “He was definitely against people of a higher class. He questioned what was going on, and he used his platform to be a voice of change.”
All Eyez On Me hits theaters on June 16 — what would’ve been Shakur’s 46th birthday.