Netflix’s latest star-studded documentary,‘The Defiant Ones’, is getting its fair share of conversational airtime at the moment. The four-part documentary tracks the unlikely intertwining of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s careers, culminating in their joint billion-dollar business venture, Beats by Dr. Dre. A compelling account covering four decades’ of music history and the power of nurturing creative talent, and yet I was left with a rather sour taste in my mouth.
Now, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to grow up in Compton. To face racial injustice and police brutality, to experience gang culture and violence as such a regular occurrence that it is barely newsworthy within communities themselves, let alone by mainstream outlets. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that, sitting here in my white privilege, behind my MacBook screen in my nice warm house. But one thing I do know, is that violence towards women is not OK, and within the narrative, there was a section on the assault of TV presenter Dee Barnes by Dr. Dre in 1991.
A lot of ground is covered throughout the 260 minutes, told mainly through archive footage, news clips and countless celebrity contributors including Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen and Ice Cube.
260 minutes. That’s over four hours. Do you know how many minutes were dedicated to the depiction of the assault? Less than four. This included Barnes describing how her career was effectively ruined after people felt she was a ‘disturbing footnote in his legacy’, news clips, Dr. Dre’s apology AND Barnes acknowledging her forgiveness. All neatly tied up in around the same amount of time as an advert break.
I’m a big believer in rehabilitation, and redemption rather than someone being condemned forever as a result of past actions, but as Roxane Gay said about Chris Brown’s 2009 assault on Rihanna: “This is not to say he has no right to move on from his crime, but contrition takes time and sincerity”. It’s safe to say there has been time, but a fleeting, flippant apology during a documentary celebrating how you became a billionaire does not seem at all sincere.
A brief pause with Dr. Dre looking ‘a bit sad’ at the camera is not good enough. Saying, “I have this dark cloud that follows me and it’s going to be attached to me forever. It’s a major blemish on who I am as a man”, is not good enough. That is the statement of a victim commenting on the unfortunate effect his actions have had on his own life. Let’s not forget that this ‘dark cloud’ has substituted any criminal conviction as the case was settled out of court. I would also argue that being thrown through a door would be significantly more of a ‘major blemish’, if we’re going to split hairs.
Presumably, we are supposed to find comfort in the fact that this is a different attitude than in a 1991 Rolling Stone interview:
“I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing – I just threw her through a door.”
I’m not saying there should have been an entire episode on this, but if the decision to include and acknowledge the attack was made (it was notably left out of the 2015 biopic, Straight Outta Compton), then producers should have ensured that it was dealt with appropriately. If Dr. Dre is truly sorry, as he claims to be, then surely the sheer reach of this documentary was an opportunity to really do that apology justice? Connect with viewers, particularly young men, who look up to the glamourised world of Hip Hop with the knowledge that his voice could make a real difference beyond the hype and bravado, rather than mumble a quick sorry and move swiftly on.
Additionally, with so many significant faces featuring in ‘The Defiant Ones’, it raises a wider question of the role of the industry. Should music created by men who have been allegedly violent towards women (think Chris Brown, Dr. Dre, R Kelly etc) be distributed to a mass audience, often featuring derogatory or aggressive language towards women? As consumers, what is our responsibility? I’m certainly guilty of dancing in nightclubs to songs with lyrics I find deeply offensive. N.W.A famously skirted around the content of their more controversial songs by claiming that they were simply holding up a mirror to the reality of the time. Are we buying that? Or did Oscar Wilde sum it up better when he said, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. How many people grew up deeply relating to Eminem’s ‘misunderstood underdog persona’, and how influenced were they by his songs that talked about raping and murdering women?
Considering that men so often get the last word in these situations, and to avoid being a white woman giving a voice to a black victim, it seems fitting to place Dee Barnes’ powerful words in conclusion on why she didn’t just keep quiet:
“From a personal standpoint, I feel like I’ve handled it well, […] I had to stand up just because I would probably never forgive myself if I hadn’t.”