All Eyez On Me: The Evolution of a Revolutionary

In honor of the recent film All Eyez On Me that was released about the legend, Tupac Amaru Shakur, this month’s featured read is Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary by Jasmine Guy. Let me forewarn you, this readview will be a bit different from the others. I will be writing a review of this book as well as the film. For the purposes of continuity, when I am discussing the film I will use the term EYEZ for All Eyez On Me and when I am discussing the book I will use the term EVOL for Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary. I believe there are 9 Laws of a Legend that every story should include when exploring an icon: truth, message, raw synchronicity, honest process, revelation, living voice, plot, relationships and struggle, triumph, transcendence.  According to biblestudy.org, the number 9 symbolizes divine completeness or conveys meaning of finality. In speaking about these two luminaries, Tupac and Afeni, I pray they continue to rest in divine power and peace. Sit back, relax and buckle your seat, because there may be turbulence, and unintended casualties. Enjoy the ride!

 

M E S S A G E

“I want to reach people who have big problems,”Afeni told Jasmine, “People that look like they won’t get through. I want to talk about how you get through garbage… just putting one foot in front of the other. I want to talk about how you can survive without destroying yourself in the process and that when you do survive there’s something left… some spirit left for the next day.”

Preface Page X- EVOL

Your message is the single driving force for every story. You cannot separate a story from its message, just like you can’t separate water from its holder. Without it, water is just a fluid under your feet. It’s no different from piss you walk over when crossing an alley. In EVOL, the message is hope for people. This can be felt through your heartbeat in the turning of the pages. It is also reiterated in the main character of this book. By the time Alice Faye Williams turned twenty-one, she had a new name, Afeni Shakur, derived from the Yoruba term lover of the people. This book serves as a vehicle for her growing audience to know Afeni more intimately. Jasmine opens chapter one describing her first encounter with Afeni. Jasmine, along with Jada Pinkett Smith, went to support their friend Tupac in court for a sexual assault hearing. He was brutally shot five times in the foyer of a New York recording studio 48 hours before. He checked himself out of Bellevue Hospital the day before and was in court on Tuesday. Jasmine knew she needed to be there and in doing so she met the safeguarding family clan of Tupac Shakur.

In the opening chapter, Jasmine now found herself driving to Stone Mountain, Georgia to record her friend Afeni for EVOL. Afeni starts the conversation by admiring the fight and spirit of the Lumbee Tribe, Indians indigenous to North Carolina. They came from the Sioux and Cheraw. Afeni recalls her first taste of resistance as a 10-year-old-something. The ku klux klan had been terrorizing people in St. Paul and were getting closer to Lumberton and Pembroke (page 13) where Afeni lived. Well, the Lumbees weren’t having any of that. They got rifles, guns and weapons and ambushed the klan. The klan ran into the woods like wimps and the Lumbees saw victory. “Resistance is what I felt. Resist. A sense of don’t let that happen to you,” said Afeni (page 14).

 

“If you let a person talk long enough you’ll hear their true intentions. Listen twice, speak once,” Tupac Amaru Shakur.

EYEZ opens up with Afeni being acquitted from a case while pregnant with the rap superstar Tupac. Now, let’s back this thing up a bit. If you’re someone like me, you’re a lover and appreciator of hip hop. In order to appreciate the message behind something, you have to know its background. So let’s set it up! It was 1969. According to workers.org, 21 members of the Black Panther Party (BBP) were officially charged with 156 accounts of “conspiracy” to blow up subway and police stations, five local department stores, six railroads and the Bronx-based New York Botanical Garden. The U.S. Marshals, CIA, FBI and New York State Police Department were working together to dismantle the BBP. Bail was set at $100,000 for each member, totaling over $2.1 million. Afeni (facing 300 years of prison time according to workers.org) chose to represent herself and serve as her own attorney. Tupac was born a month and three days after she was acquitted. A tumultuous victory for a high school drop out!

Now back to the review, EYEZ opens up with a pregnant Afeni talking to the press about her acquittal. One of the reporters asks her, “How does it feel to be free?” An acquittal from the Panther 21 case does not constitutes freedom, she responds. Although I appreciated this moment, I think the film failed to properly set up the republic before Tupac. He was born into a society with a bull’s eye on his back from the start. In order to understand the man, you have to understand the roots by which this man was birthed. I believe the first 5 minutes is a tell-all sign of a foreshadowing message for all films. The pulse of the opening scene was substantial. However, after days later of pondering, I am still unsatisfied with the overall beginning. To get to the message of this story, it may have been effective to identify the end and backtrack to the beginning. In my opinion, because the ending of the film was so piss-poor, amateurish and unsatisfactory the beginning did not effectively set up a solid foundation for the 140 minutes of screen time.

Let’s put all cards on the table. Put quite simple and plain, the message of this film was elusive. Was there even one? I did not leave the show with puzzling questions or any intentions on watching the film several more times. I left with emotions of disappointment and anger. As a culture, I believe we have to call out bull shit when it’s bull shit. What I saw in the movie theatre that sunny afternoon was indeed… bull to the shit. There is no way that the detailed attention and care that should have been paid to such a big budget project like this was actually given. Do I think this film was as horrible as the Wendy Williams’ produced joint about Aaliyah on Lifetime? Hell no! Do I think we deserve to give our immortal superstars justice even after death? Absolutely yes! It is not only our duty, but our responsibility to give them morality and pay homage especially in death not only for them, but for the people, the fans. This should always be our message for a superstar returned to the sky.

 

P L O T

In order to understand plot, we must first understand story. What is story? A story is a series of events that develop into the evolution of something, which result in educating and or entertaining the masses. In other words, “Yes, it’s important to understand where your stuff comes from.” -Afeni (Page 24, EVOL) Knowing where things start help with the progression of the story. Plot is the thread that links it all together, including exposition, setting, conflict, rising action and climax.

Afeni says, “Artists are messengers from God. They get here on earth and express themselves because of Him. I don’t know where that stuff comes from. It seems to come out of nothing sometimes.” “Like the rose that grew from concrete,” Jasmine said quoting Tupac.” Page 40, EVOL

EVOL is like eavesdropping on two friends having tea or maybe two Corona Extras depending on your location. Afeni takes Jasmine through the events of her life. She identifies how she felt, what she recalls and it’s impact. EVOL begins by examining the friendship of two women over the course of a decade. When one session ended, the next one picked up where the conversation ended, albeit a different time and place. Every location was just as intimate as the last from Jasmine’s New York apartment to Afeni’s place in Georgia. One thing I loved about chapter two was Afeni and Tupac’s genuine love for Shakespeare, which doesn’t come as a surprise since both were wordsmiths in their own right. I also enjoyed the story about Afeni’s love affair with actor Glynn Turman at the High School for Performing Arts. As the story unfolds, I find the true conflict lies with buried skeletons in Afeni’s life. This book was created to let the dead lie with no hope for parole. It tells the story of the aftermath and how Afeni fought back for the legacy of her son, his music and his rights of ownership. The years after Tupac’s murder, many challenged their right to his estate and like the true warrior she was, his mom fought each one to the bone victoriously. EVOL talks about Jasmine’s intentions of letting Tupac’s spirit soar not only in this book, but convincing Afeni to let it live through film.

“Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” Tupac

According to IMDb, EYEZ “tells the true and untold story of prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur.” The description is pretty simple and straight to the point. It leaves room for interpretation and creative license. However, this became an issue with the original director John Singleton who parted ways with producer L.T. Hutton. Singleton wanted to include a rape scene with Pac in jail according to XXL Mag. Management thought this would do more to tarnish Pac legacy than anything else. For those who remember correctly, back in the day Wendy “How You Doin” Williams, was friends with Tupac. She leaked a story revealing he was raped while in prison. He denied the rumors during an interview and even spoke about it in his song, Why U Turn On Me:

All my old friends too busy now my money gone
Said I got raped in jail, picture that? {​*laughter*}​
Revenge is a payback bitch, get your gat
Fuck {​Wendy Williams}​ and I pray you choke
On the next dick down your throat
For turnin’ on me

Hutton has since said “He [Singleton] wanted to start the movie off with Tupac going in the studio. One guy’s in the studio, and he’s getting head.” According to TMZ, the scene was approved by ‘Pac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. Oh yes, Afeni was one of the executive producers before her death last year at the ripe age of 69 on May 2, 2016. Many celebrities have vocalized their disdain for the film due to its mediocrity, lack of authenticity and poor casting choices. For example, casting rapper Maino as Tupac’s shooter in the film.

Personally I feel the film was a rushed job. I would be interested in knowing why the producing company choose to release this film almost one year to the date of Afeni’s death. The film was nowhere near complete during the time of her death. Why did the parties involved feel the need to accelerate the production. To date, Jasmine Guy has not made an official statement about her views on the film. On June 16th, Jada Pinkett Smith spoke out against the film on twitter saying, “I’ve never been to any of Pac’s shows by his request. We never had an argument backstage. The reimagining of my relationship to Pac has been deeply hurtful. I didn’t know that poem existed [referring to the film] until it was printed in his book.” Jada also does not fought the actors, but the screenwriters. I agree with her that there is a difference between the script and the portrayal of the actors. As an actress and writer, I am aware that you have to separate the two. However, I would also like to know why Jada or Jasmine were not apart of the making of this film or even requested to consult. It’s not like they don’t have the clout. Am I right or am I right? If they were, I can guarantee this review would be much different.

T R U T H

“I’m better with books than with movies. Movies leave too much out. They’re too manipulative. Movies dictate your feelings. They don’t let you choose or decide where to go on your own. You have to give in to movies.” -Afeni, Page 50, EVOL

We’ve discussed Afeni and the Panther 21 case, but we have yet to discuss why. Why the Panthers? What drew her to this organization? She joined because they were answering the needs of the people in the community (page 64). Afeni was a believer of restoring communities, schools and nurturing children. This is what she was drawn to. The Panthers organized one of the first-ever breakfast programs for kids and it was free. According to The Plate National Geographics, by the end of 1969, the Black Panthers were serving full free breakfasts (including milk, bacon, eggs, grits, and toast) to 20,000 school aged children in 19 cities around the country, and in 23 local affiliates every school day. Here are other programs, the Panthers were notorious for having: (1) the People’s Free Medical Centers aka Health Clinics, (2) the Youth Intercommunal Institute aka elementary education program, (3) Seniors Against a Fearful Environment aka SAFE – nonprofit that offered free transportation to seniors and help prevent muggings against the elderly, (4) the People’s Free Ambulance Program, (5) Free Food Program for blacks and other oppressed people, (6) the Black Student Alliance – program that gave free books and supplies to black student unions at colleges, free child care programs and a financial aid program, (7) the Black Panther Newspaper. Until her dying day, Afeni has stayed true to her commitment to helping people.

After Tupac’s death Afeni established the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF). The foundation’s headquarters were in Atlanta. TASF hosted a performing arts camp for inner city kids to nurture their artistic expression every year. By the time of Afeni’s death, the building was on its last leg and preparing to close. She reluctantly sold the property at $1.2 million before officially announcing its closing. Jim Burnett, a retired real estate investor is now reported to have bought Afeni’s Stone Mountain property for $600,000, according to Rolling Stone. It is also reported “the dance studio has been converted into office suites, the theater will turn into an indoor play center called Jumps R Us, and the peace garden into a water park.” Burnett says “It works in perfect conjunction with what Afeni was doing with the kids.” “We were told that the baton had been passed. We’re not going to allow the Shakur name to die.” Personally, I think it is sad that once again the arts are dying to another generation for some damn offices and another amusement festation. Now, I love water parks and playtime like the next person, but when will the arts live again? Truth is can the arts be revived or should we let sleeping dreams lie?

 

A N   H O N E S T   P R O C E S S

“So, why are we here? Why are any of us here? I don’t know. But I would appreciate it if you end this nightmare, because I’m tired of it and I can’t justify it in my mind. There’s no logical reason for us to have gone through the last two years as we have, to be threatened with imprisonment because somebody somewhere is watching and waiting to justify being a spy. So do what you have to do. But please don’t forget what you saw and heard in this courtroom… Let history record you as a jury that would not kneel to the outrageous bidding of the state. Show us that we were not wrong in assuming that you would judge us fairly. And remember that that’s all we’re asking of you. All we ask of you is that you judge us fairly. Please judge us according to the way that you want to be judged.” -Afeni, Page 99, EVOL

And I’ll add-on to this, make films the way you want films to be made about you. As I look back at EYEZ, here are a few things that I think could have been incorporated. First thing, keep the audience invested in the characters. Half of this battle was won, because everyone who went to see the movie 9 times out of 10 knew exactly who Tupac was. That’s probably what brought them to the movies in the first place. However, keeping the audience invested is another battle. Now this is not a slight against the actors who portrayed the characters,  more so the interaction of the characters. For example, Afeni powerfully played by Danai Gurira had more astute punch lines than anything else throughout the movie. It would’ve been great to see the complex simplicity of her character. From EVOL I picked up Afeni is a woman who through her silence from moment to moment can speak volumes without uttering a word. Second, more depth in Tupac’s character, played by Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Jada, played by Kat Graham. It almost feels like the storyline of Jada was just pushed in there for no other reason than they were friends. That’s it! There had to have been more to the root of their friendship. These two souls met at the pinnacle of their teenage years. I am not suggesting the two were intimate, but I believe their bond appeared strong and unbroken. Third, having 3 dimensional characters. Having characters the audience can relate to and feel their spirits. Everyone may not cannot relate to a girlfriend trying to keep her man from getting into trouble. However, everyone can relate to saving someone you love from making a life changing decision. That is something you can find hope in and something worth fight for.

 

A   L I V I N G   V O I C E

Something I struggle with as a writer is figuring out how to end. Film is very different from an award show or event. You can end that with an encore and leave the house rocking, screen does not work that way. The great thing that I have faith in is when you know, you know. I know it’s a redundant blank statement, but it’s a feeling not a system that has a predictable hypothesis.  EYEZ ended with the murder of Tupac underscored with a gospel song. Now, if you know me I will be the first to tell you the Lord, Jesus is my savior and redeemer. However, let’s be real the ending was whack! It was not a set up to let Pac’s voice live on after death. The mood of the gospel song was the antithesis of the scene’s tone. Now I am not dissing the message of the song, and the song surely could have worked with another scene. In my opinion it was a poor choice to place the song at the end after the slow 5 minute muted scene. It was just plain amateurish and painful to watch. Like I said before, I truly believe death is the birth of a legend’s voice. Where does Tupac’s legacy and philosophy leave us now? Was all of his poetry for nothing? Who holds his memory in their hands now that he and his mother are gone? What happened to Sekyiwa and Rashida Jones? Was his blood shed in vain? If we do not make it clear why we celebrate his name to the present generation, all Tupac will be is a thug-ass nigga who got around from California who dropped hit after hit like Dear Momma and Keep Ya Head Up. This cannot be what Makaveli is reduced to!

“If we must die let it not be like hogs hunted and pinned in an inglorious spot, while round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain; then even the monsters we defy shall be constrained to honor us through dead!

Page 100, EVOL

 

R E V E L A T I O N S

I must admit after reading Afeni’s one-time story, I had to drop the book for a few days. Her confession had me reminiscing on the skeletons in my closet. We all have that one person who played us. To admit you got played is something, but to admit you got played by a no-good nigga is a stab at our ego. How though? Can we blame it on love? Blame it on sex? I remember my first. Our friendship was toxic. He was smart and I’m not just talking about books. His street smarts got me hipped to a game I didn’t know was being played in these Chicago streets. This man could rock a dashiki and hoodie with the best of them. His tips dripped with swag and confidence. I mean no room was the same when he walked through. And the tricks! Oh my goodness the tricks that he taught me couldn’t ever be taught in a classroom. How to roll and inhale the smoke without coughing out my lungs. And teaching that a job isn’t something you just clock into from 9-5. I don’t know what hurts worse, that until a few years ago I was still hooked on him like every breath to oxygen. Maybe it was that he slept with my friend or that he openly admitted to not knowing how many sexual partners he ever had in his life. On top of that, I still loved that man to the bone of me. I don’t know what it was but after I thought about it I got mad as hell at myself. How the fuck did I allow myself to get blinded and played like a church organ on Easter Sunday? My story ended with him having a baby with another and I moved on. Afeni’s one time story ended much different. In EVOL, she revealed one of her friends  wanted to play matchmaker and set her up. Mind you, both of these men were jail buddies. After talking with this gentleman for sometime, against her absolute moral judgement she had a 5 second sexual escapade in a prison restroom and got pregnant. Afeni was about thirty-nine or forty, and this incarcerated man proposed to her and was ready to be the father of her baby.

“There’s nothing worse than being played by a nigga in jail. All I could think was ‘You’s a stupid bitch. And the stupidest bitch that ever lived…’ and I believed it.” Page 140

To add insult to injury, when Afeni went to visit the father of this “plantation baby” as she referred to it, she found out that she wasn’t the only pair of legs he had been climbing. This man’s real woman was visiting him on the same day as Afeni and she was pregnant as well. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Afeni moved forward getting an abortion, but no doctor would give her the procedure so she took matters into her own hands.

“So I try to kill the baby myself,” Afeni says. “I knew from my work at Legal Services that crack kills babies, so I started smoking crack. Every day, twenty-four-seven. I would get high and I’d feel the baby kick. Right in the beginning I’d feel it kick. I would just keep smokin’ until it stopped kicking. Every day. Every day. But the baby wouldn’t die. I wouldn’t miscarry, and I hated that baby and I hated myself for hating that baby.” Page 141/142

This truth is what I felt was missing from EYEZ that should have been included in the reference to Afeni’s bought with drugs. If we are going to tell the story, let’s give the facts.

 

R A W   S Y C R I N I S T Y

Most forget that when Tupac was murdered that he had a sister that was often forgotten about. She’s mentioned in EYEZ but is vaguely touched on during the height of his career. In EVOL, Jasmine dedicated chapter seven to her, Song of Sekyiwa. Her family wrote her off as crazy, but years of built-up rage and resentment unleashed in outbursts and an attempted suicide. Although Sekyiwa did not fall under the hold of alcoholism or drugs, she got caught up with another disease just as destructive. Between the age of twelve to fourteen, she started having sex which developed into an addiction. During this time Afeni was using crack and Tupac was working at Digital Underground. While in the eighth grade, Sekyiwa was paying rent and living in her mom’s subsidized apartment with her twenty-three year old drug dealer boyfriend. Afeni would be gone months at a time so it was usually just Sekyiwa and her beau. To survive, her boyfriend would give her money or drugs to sell. She ran through hoops to make others believed her mom actually lived with her. It was rough, but Sekyiwa found her way to Sierra Tucson where she got help. She just wishes Tupac would’ve lived long enough to make amends for their lost childhood and got the peace on Earth he needed. He just didn’t have enough time.

 

R E L A T I O N S H I P S

I can relate. I had an uncle who was murdered in a drive-by when I was younger. His death was the first time I ever experienced lost. I remember it like it was yesterday. The last time I saw him, his skin was dark chocolate almost the color of black satin and his eyes could pierce through the toughest soul. He had the biggest kool-aid smile and to this day could still probably light up any dark force that came his way. It was night-time, but his skin was gleaming in the streetlights. I was with my grandmother on her front porch chopping it up. He pulled up right behind her infamous burgundy car and I greeted him with the biggest hug my little heart could carry. My love for family comes from my mom, who was 1 of 6. This was my mom’s youngest brother and he treated me like a princess every time I saw him. Being that I did not live in the same town that my mom was from, I always loved being around my family even if it was only for the summer or quick weekend trips. He stayed for all about forty minutes then he was off. Next thing I knew, my family was making an impromptu visit to the east coast. I did not know why and didn’t question why, neither did I have the energy to. I was just happy to be going. As a kid I was brought up in a time where children would never question their parents why they were going where they were going. You shut up, pile in the car and take in the sights on the way. Now that I think about it, my mom never seemed sad about this particular visit but then again, my mom rarely let me see her during times of mourning. It’s one of the things I loved and despised at the same time. However, I’m pretty sure my mom was to torn-up to tell me the truth as she was processing the entire nightmare herself. My aunt ended up breaking the news to me. I was sitting on her wooden floor staircase playing while everyone else was preparing for the arrangements I presume and she told me my favorite uncle had gone on to be with the Lord. He was shot several times in the neck in his car. What I wouldn’t give to spend one more hour with my hero. This year my uncle would’ve turned 38 years old.

 

S T R U G G L E/  T R I U M P H/  T R A N S C E N D E N C E

In life, we will all have struggles, triumphs and after life we will transcend to another glory, whether you believe in heaven or hell, reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. These are things that are absolute and we have no control of.  I truly believe we have a choice of how we choose to live our days here on earth. It’s one of the best things about being the highest form of being on land. What will your nine laws reveal about you? What’s your life premise? What will they put on your epitaph?

 

Tupac “Makaveli” Shakur is no doubt one of the great hip hop legends and philosophers of our time. All Eyez On Me was a big disappointment to celebrities and fans of his work. Once again, I applaud Hollywood for shining light on our stories, but if you’re going to do it, DO IT RIGHT! If I had a choice to get my hands on the rights to 2Pac’s story what would I have done differently? First, I would’ve done my research. Read every book I could have gotten my hands on. Second, contacted his closest loved ones to serve as consultants. Now I know that’s easier said than done, because most don’t want to touch the dead once they are laid to rest. Families usually don’t want you to do bio-pics or documentaries whatsoever. Specific people I would’ve contacted for sure would’ve been Jada Pinkett Smith, Jasmine Guy, Sekyiwa Shakur and Gloria Cox. Third, I would’ve prayed the heavens down asking Pac’s spirit to be present in every part of the production. May his spirit be pleased with the process as he rested in power and peace. I give the film a 1-star rating.

I had been itching to read Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary for some time now. For one, I absolutely love anything Jasmine Guy does. Her work has so much depth and passion, you cannot question her drive. I finally picked it up from my bookshelf the week after Afeni transcended. For me, I had to know what this activist, this renegade, this mother had to say. Although many stories have been released about this woman, many were unwarranted or pure he say-she say. This is one of the first and only books where Afeni spoke directly to the people using her own voice and revealing her own life’s truth. The book takes the audience through months on end of conversations and meet ups with these two friends. Some chats were giving, some were taking but it was always her authentic voice. This read gets 5 stars!

 

I leave you with this “LET HER B” Moment by the Dalai Lama:

“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one CREATE as significant an impression by remaining silent.”

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