Dee Barnes Reflects On Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre Assault
Dee Barnes was a member of West Coast hip-hop duo Body & Soul, and she used to host the rap-centric Fox series Pump It Up!, but unfortunately she may be best remembered as the victim of Dr. Dre’s most famous assault. Long story short, in November 1990, Pump It Up! ended a segment on N.W.A. with footage of Ice Cube, who had recently left N.W.A. and was feuding with them at the time, insulting his former group. Two months later, during an album release party for rap group Bytches With Problems at L.A. nightclub Po Na Na Souk, Dre beat up Barnes — smashing her head into a wall, kicking her ribs, and following her into the women’s restroom to continue the assault. Dre recently discussed his history of violence toward women, but neither the Barnes assault nor any other incidences of violence against women made it into Straight Outta Compton.
In light of all this, Gawker asked Barnes to watch Straight Outta Compton and publish some of her thoughts. Barnes obliged. Here’s what she had to say about her assault being left out of the movie:
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. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, “Uhhh, what happened?” Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.
Barnes also insinuates that director F. Gary Gray left the assault out of the movie because he feels partially complicit. Gray was a cameraman on Pump It Up!, and he filmed the Ice Cube interview that inspired Dre’s attack. Barnes writes that Gray and producer Jeff Shore argued to include Cube’s anti-N.W.A. rant against her advice:
That’s right. F. Gary Gray, the man whose film made $60 million last weekend as it erased my attack from history, was also behind the camera to film the moment that launched that very attack. He was my cameraman for Pump It Up! You may have noticed that Gary has been reluctant to address N.W.A.’s misogyny and Dre’s attack on me in interviews. I think a huge reason that Gary doesn’t want to address it is because then he’d have to explain his part in history. He’s obviously uncomfortable for a reason.
Gary was the one holding the camera during that fateful interview with Ice Cube, which was filmed on the set of Boyz N the Hood. I was there to interview the rapper Yo Yo. Cube was in a great mood, even though he was about to shoot and he was getting into character.
Cube went into a trailer to talk to Gary and Pump It Up! producer Jeff Shore. I saw as he exited that Cube’s mood had changed. Either they told him something or showed him the N.W.A. footage we had shot a few weeks earlier. What ended up airing was squeaky clean compared to the raw footage. N.W.A. were chewing Cube up and spitting him out. I was trying to do a serious interview and they were just clowning—talking shit, cursing. It was crazy.
Right after we shot a now-angry Cube and they shouted, “Cut!” one of the producers said, “We’re going to put that in.” I said, “Hell no.” I wasn’t even thinking about being attacked at the time, I was just afraid that they were going to shoot each other. I didn’t want to be part of that. “This is no laughing matter,” I tried telling them. “This is no joke. These guys take this stuff seriously.” I was told by executives that I was being emotional. That’s because I’m a woman. They would have never told a man that. They would have taken him seriously and listened.
Barnes writes that the attack has had a lasting effect on her health and career:
It was that interview that was the supposed cause of Dre’s attack on me, as many of his groupmates attested. My life changed that night. I suffer from horrific migraines that started only after the attack. I love Dre’s song “Keep Their Heads Ringin”—it has a particularly deep meaning to me. When I get migraines, my head does ring and it hurts, exactly in the same spot every time where he smashed my head against the wall. People have accused me of holding onto the past; I’m not holding onto the past. I have a souvenir that I never wanted. The past holds onto me.
People ask me, “How come you’re not on TV anymore?” and “How come you’re not back on television?” It’s not like I haven’t tried. I was blacklisted. Nobody wants to work with me. They don’t want to affect their relationship with Dre. I’ve been told directly and indirectly, “I can’t work with you.” I auditioned for the part that eventually went to Kimberly Elise in Set It Off. Gary was the director. This was long after Pump it Up!, and I nailed the audition. Gary came out and said, “I can’t give you the part.” I asked him why, and he said, “‘Cause I’m casting Dre as Black Sam.” My heart didn’t sink, I didn’t get emotional; I was just numb.
Most recently, I tried to get a job at Revolt. I’ve known Sean (Combs) for years and have the utmost respect for him. Still nothing. Instead of doing journalism, I’ve had a series of 9-5 jobs over the years to make ends meet.
For more, read the full piece at Gawker.