September 23, 2004
Tupac: Resurrection (2003) is an attempt to tell the legendary rapper, Tupac Shakur’s life story in his own words. This may seem difficult considering he’s dead but Lauren Lazin’s documentary manages to pull it off. She achieves this by editing together many interviews with Tupac into a voiceover narration that feels like he is telling us about his life from beyond the grave.
Right from the opening credits any notions of this being an objective look at the man are destroyed by Tupac’s voiceover talking about death and angels with the film’s title shown over clouds—this will be a deification of Tupac. It doesn’t hurt that the documentary is executive produced by Tupac’s mom, Afeni Shakur, and backed by MTV. This gave the filmmakers complete access to the MTV archives. This results in a lot of excellent interview and performance footage. Despite all of this, Tupac: Resurrection is an engaging, fascinating look at the man and his music.
The documentary goes back to Tupac’s roots and how his mother was a Black Panther and his stepfather was also a revolutionary and a criminal. They planted the seeds for Tupac becoming the outspoken rebel that he was later on in life. His mom, more than anybody else, was the biggest influence on him. She showed Tupac how to stand up for himself and for others, educated him and taught him a sense of community. But, as he points out, she couldn’t teach him how to be a man. This absence of a father figure would also shape his worldview.
There are some interesting revelations in this documentary. For example, Tupac became interested in acting from watching Gary Coleman on the TV sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes. He felt that if a kid like that could make it, he could as well. As a kid, Tupac took several performing arts classes and developed a diverse taste in music, from Sinatra to Kate Bush to Stevie Wonder.
More than anything, Tupac: Resurrection is a platform for the man’s personal philosophy. He wanted his music to do for the slums and the ghettos of inner cities what the media coverage of the Vietnam War did: it showed how bad things were and helped stop it. Tupac hoped that his graphic depictions of ghetto life would wake people up and change things.
The documentary also examines Tupac’s various film roles and the good notices he received from them. It touches upon the versatility that he was starting to display early on in his acting career. He could play a violent gangster in Juice (1992) or a thoughtful, retrospective man Poetic Justice (1993). Tupac talks about his experiences working on his movies, including a priceless story about how Janet Jackson’s people wanted him to take an AIDS test before the filming of their love scene in Poetic Justice.
The film also touches upon his social activism and his attempts to unite rival east and west coast gangs. He wanted to clean up the ghettos, to get rid of drugs and have the people do it themselves because he knew that no one else had any interest in doing it. It also shows that Tupac wasn’t afraid to be outspoken, slamming people like Spike Lee, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones (which he later regretted and apologized to) in the press for not giving enough back to the black community.
Finally, Tupac: Resurrection examines the turbulent last year of his life and the bitter feud with Notorious B.I.G. and how it resulted in both of their deaths. It’s a shame that so much of his time was consumed in this pointless rivalry instead of being put into the things that mattered, like his music and his social causes.
There is an excellent audio commentary with director Lauren Lazin, Tupac’s mom, Afeni, and many family members and people who knew or admired him (including Snoop Dog, Mary J. Blige, Jada Pinkett Smith and others). Afeni says that originally she was interested in doing a feature film but later felt that a documentary would allow Tupac to speak for himself and have more integrity and truth. She also talks about the significance of the historical revolutionaries shown early on in the film and her experiences with the Black Panthers. She comes across as a very smart and articulate lady who speaks very warmly about her son and tells some fantastic stories. This is a solid track and definitely worth a listen.
There are four deleted scenes that don’t add too much and it is obvious why they were dropped. Although, there is an interesting bit of interview footage where Tupac talks about how his time in prison taught him humility. It is bitterly ironic hearing him talk this way when juxtaposed with his braggadocios words against Biggie and Puff Daddy in the documentary.
The “Interviews” section features a never seen before Christmas interview he did in August 1992 while recording a song for a holiday tribute album. Later on, Tupac got into legal trouble, his track was dropped from the album and the interview never aired. He talks about his childhood memories of Christmas and how some years he and his family wouldn’t get any presents because they were so poor. The 1996 Video Music Awards interview sees Tupac slam Biggie and Puff Daddy and refute any kind of East Coast-West Coast war.
The “Malcolm X Dinner Speech” features footage of Tupac speaking at a Malcolm X Grassroots Movement banquet. He is quite passionate as he talks about politics and how to solve the problems plaguing the black community.
In 1995, Tupac was sued by the estate of a slain Texas State Trooper who claimed that his music incited the shooting. Included is some footage from this taped deposition while he was in prison for another offense.
“About the Resurrection Soundtrack” is a collection of brief interviews with Eminem and 50 Cent about the songs that they worked on for the movie’s soundtrack.
There are also two Tupac music videos, “Trapped” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”
“Remembering Tupac” is a nice 17-minute collection of interviews with the likes of Snoop Dog, Mary J. Blige and others who speak highly of Tupac and talk about where they were when they heard that Tupac was shot for the last time.
“Mutulu Shakur Interview” is footage of Tupac’s stepfather and revolutionary Black Nationalist from prison where he is currently serving 60 years without chance of parole for robbing a bank. Tupac considered Mutulu a mentor who influenced his Thug Life philosophy.
“Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts” is a future performance arts center that is currently being built under Afeni’s guidance and is intended to help nurture and develop young black children’s artistic talents.
There is a theatrical trailer and TV spot for the documentary.
Finally, “Bootleg This!” is a brief message from Afeni about her determination to prosecute anyone who tries to illegally make money off of her son’s music.
Tupac: Resurrection is not an objective look at the famous rapper but it is not meant to be. It celebrates his life and his legacy in a very engaging and entertaining manner. This is a very well-made movie and also an excellent DVD with an abundance of extra material that enhances and flesh out the documentary itself.