Dee Barnes Responds to Dr. Dre’s Apology to the Women He Abused With Powerful Words
The N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton has been a runaway success at the box office, chalking up two straight weeks atop the box office charts and raking in well over $100 million in that time period. The timing of its release has been uncanny, with its depictions of police harassment of black men corresponding with a year of police violence against black citizens. The film also did what many thought would never happen, in reviving (and perhaps concluding) the musical career of Dr. Dre as a recording artist. While the movie has been a triumph on many levels, it also has re-opened some exceedingly deep wounds that never really healed, not because of what it portrayed but because of what it omitted.
Like all Hollywood biopics, Straight Outta Compton has taken some creative license, as Ice Cube said, for the sake of storytelling. There are events that were added and cut for various reasons, but for many, the glaring deletion was the decision not to address the misogyny latent within N.W.A.’s music and embedded in the behavior of some of its members. More specifically, there was a public outcry that the film did not depict some of the well-documented physical abuse of women by Dr. Dre. In an interview with Big Boy in March, Dre had suggested that these matters would be covered in the film, stating “”We really wanted to get across how we feel about women. There’s a big misconception [as far as] how we respect our women. These were some of the things we wanted to get across.” However, save for some depictions of hedonistic parties with topless women, not much else was shown and there were no mentions of the physical abuse.
An interview in Rolling Stone that was published on August 12, two days before Straight Outta Compton‘s opening, however, featured comments from Dre where he publicly expressed remorse about his prior conduct, saying “I made some horrible fucking mistakes in my life.” A few days later, an LA Times article was released which reported an earlier version of the film’s script had, in fact, included a scene depicting Dre’s 1991 physical attack on on-air personality, Dee Barnes, likely the most high profile assault of which Dre was a part, but not the only one, as his ex-wife Michel’le and others have come forward over the years with stories of abuse.
In the wake of the film’s release and subsequent discussion about Dre’s history of abuse of women, Dee Barnes wrote an extended piece for Gawker, titled “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up,” about her reflections on the film after watching it. She touched on everything from excessive force by the police to the personal relationships she cultivated with members of N.W.A. over the years. While she noted that Dre’s assault of her was not included in the film, she wrote that she believed that was the right decision. “That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: ‘I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.’ But what should have been addressed is that it occurred.”
The article added fuel to a social media fire that was already burning about the film’s depiction of women, generally, and, whether in direct response or not, on Friday, August 21 Dr. Dre issued a public apology to the women he’s abused via the New York Times. In the Times article, Dre stated “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…Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.”
For some, Dre’s apology was a welcomed gesture; an appropriate coda on a dark chapter from decades ago. For others, they were calculated words, likely the result of PR damage control, and dubiously-timed. For Dee Barnes, they were something more complex and about more than just her.
In a follow up article with Gawker on August 24, Barnes responded to Dr. Dre’s apology with powerful, measured and thoughtful words. ” I hope he meant it. I hope he represents these words in his life. I hope that after all these years, he really is a changed man. Dr. Dre has matured, and the women he’s hurt, including myself, have endured. I’m proud to be able to say goodbye to the man who at one point was straight outta fucks to give, as he consistently dismissed and disrespected any mention of his assault history,” wrote Barnes. She also pointed out that, while the physical assault on her only happened once, she was the victim of ongoing verbal jeers from Dre (or his affiliates) for years, “In 1999, eight years after the incident, Dr. Dre added insult to injury by producing and releasing the Eminem single “Guilty Conscience.” This song was no “fucking mistake.” Em’s rap brought up Dre’s violent past while accusing him of hypocrisy: ‘You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?’…I have been routinely accused of ‘living in the past’ and of not letting this go, but it was Dr. Dre himself who was living in the past and couldn’t let it go so he created a permanent reminder of the ‘Dee Barnes incident.'”
After addressing the specifics related to Dre, his conduct over the years and his apology, Barnes moves to some of the greater societal implications raised by her assault and those on others, as well as the treatment of the victims by some of the public:
“The hypocrisy of it all is appalling. This is bigger than me, and bigger than hip-hop. This is about respect and awareness. As a result of speaking on my personal experience with violence, I have been vilified. Women survivors of violence are expected neither to be seen nor heard, and the pressure increases when it involves celebrities. No one wants to see their heroes criticized. And if they are African American, the community at large becomes suspicious of an underlying motive to tear down a successful black man.”
Whether this exchange has resulted in closure for the victims of Dre’s abuse, or Dre himself, remains to be seen. Regardless, hopefully it is just the beginning of a fresh perspective and different approach to how to deal with matters of misogyny and physical abuse in the future.