A Missy Elliott Biopic? Here’s Why Her Story Bridges Women & Hip-Hop in a Powerful Way
Since Straight Outta Compton‘s meteoric rise to dominance in discussions of contemporary American film, music, sexual politics, and more, the concept of the Hip-Hop biopic is one that has flooded channels of communication and is seemingly inescapable. News of a Master P biopic and a cinematic exploration of Death Row Records have added plenty of fervor to the chatter, but talk of a film about the women of Hip-Hop has not reached the same kind of intensity. However, that might all change soon. In a recent op-ed for Mic, writer Tom Barnes put forth a compelling argument about the next Hip-Hop biopic, suggesting one of the world’s most prominent and successful musicians in the world, regardless of gender.
In his piece titled “The Next Major Hip-Hop Biopic Should Celebrate Missy Elliott,” Barnes beautifully acknowledges the contributions Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott has made, not only on behalf of Hip-Hop, but also on behalf of women. With much of the conversation around Straight Outta Compton revolving around the filmmakers’ decision to omit the part of N.W.A.’s history that dealt with the misogyny rampant in their lyrics (and the alleged behavior of members in their personal lives), Barnes offers up Elliott’s life story as a countermeasure, noting her past experiences with sexual and domestic abuse and her triumphant entry into music.
As a Hip-Hop superstar who just happens to be a woman, Elliott’s story is unusual but no less relatable than the story of a group of guys from Compton. As Barnes writes:
“Music biopics have been devoid of strong female subjects for years. Straight Outta Compton set us back in terms of fair representation for women in the creation of musical legacy. The vast majority of musical biopics have focused on male artists — Jimi Hendrix, Notorious B.I.G., Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash. Even the recent Amy Winehouse documentary overlooked the singer’s artistic achievements to instead explore her story as a case study for tabloid culture.”
He extends his point about past examples to the future, suggesting that a Missy biopic could lead to more films centered on women and their stories. “If a Missy Elliott biopic were to slay at the box office, we could soon see a flood of other empowering female stories: a new biopic for Aaliyah, perhaps, a story for Lil’ Kim or Lauryn Hill,” he surmises. While there have been films made about influential women in the world of Hip-Hop, most of them aired on television only, a stark contrast from the ubiquity of Straight Outta Compton‘s presence in mainstream American culture as a blockbuster theatrical release.
So why Elliott first? As Heads well know, her accomplishments are astounding. A five-time Grammy winning MC, producer, and songwriter who has sold more than 30-million records in the United States, Elliott has had a mind-boggling six Platinum albums, making her the first female rapper to reach that benchmark (not counting the fact that 2002’s Under Construction eventually reached double-Platinum status). That success is magnified intensely by the pain and obstacles experienced in early life; as she has shared in various interviews, she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her father and sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin. Certainly, that part of her story echoes that of countless women, particularly women of color whose access to victims’ services are often drastically sparse and disproportionately costly.
Barnes’ suggestion of a Missy biopic was not the first. Back in 2005, Elliott told MTV that an “autobiographical film” was in the works but ten years later, one hasn’t been released. And that’s not for a lack of interest, evidenced by Barnes’ empowered plea. As the Hip-Hop biopic becomes canonized genre of film, there are sure to be plenty of similar calls to action for the next Straight Outta Compton (and certainly no shortage of qualified subjects), but none would be as supa dupa fly as Missy.