The late Tupac Shakur’s electrifying debut performance as madman “Bishop” in Juice is his most iconic role, but he probably did his best acting in John Singleton’s 1993 Boyz n the Hood follow-up Poetic Justice. Shakur – lest we forget, an actor with classical training at the Baltimore School for the Arts – crafted a performance of gruff sensitivity that impressed even the film’s critics (and there were many), and ended up outshining that of the film’s ostensible star, Janet Jackson.
So it is, to put it mildly, peculiar that All Eyez On Me, the lackluster new biopic of Shakur (our review here), doesn’t even mention Poetic Justice. Like, at all. Like, not even in passing. It’s not that the film is disinterested in Shakur’s acting work; he’s seen on the sets of Juice and Above the Rim, and welcoming his mother to his trailer during production of Gridlock’d. And it’s not like it’s a film that skimps on details – every single beat in the East Coast / West Coast rap war is painstakingly recreated, no matter the relative importance. (Remember that time Snoop went on Hot 97 and said he had love for Puff and Biggie? It was a huge deal, apparently!) But as far as All Eyez is concerned, Poetic Justice didn’t even happen. Why could that be?
Well, here’s a theory. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, All Eyez is the result of a lengthy struggle to bring Pac’s story to the screen, involving rights disputes, lawsuits, and creative conflicts. During that time, the project passed through several directors’ hands, including Antoine Fuqua, Carl Franklin, and… John Singleton.
Singleton left the project in 2015, with a source close to the project citing “major creative differences” with production company Morgan Creek. “Honestly, Morgan Creek can make a sub-par Tupac movie and move on,” the source told The Wrap. “If John Singleton makes a bad Tupac movie? It’s something he’d have to live with for the rest of his life.” Singleton expanded on that conflict last year, explaining, “I told the company if y’all muthafuckas want to do this, you gotta get the fuck out my face and let me do this movie… I did a great script and I thought they were going to go forward with it, but because I’m so mouthy and opinionated, some people don’t like to work with a black man in Hollywood who has an opinion.”
Appearing on The Breakfast Club radio show this week, All Eyez producer L.T. Hutton had his own explanation for Singleton’s departure – that the director wanted to include gratuitous sex scenes, including a prison rape during Shakur’s incarceration for sexual assault. “There were a multitude of things that he wanted to do that just weren’t flattering to Tupac himself,” Hutton said. “It was almost like, ‘What are you doing? You knew what was going on, and now you want to defame the guy.’ Not on my watch.”
It’s also worth noting that one Singleton project is mentioned in All Eyez – Higher Learning, the director’s 1995 follow-up to Justice, with a lead role he originally wrote for Shakur that was ultimately played by his Juice co-star Omar Epps. In All Eyez, Shakur is seen despairing over his dire financial straights, and asks his manager about the film, only to be told they’re going in “a different direction,” presumably on account of his ongoing legal woes. So it’s not just that the filmmakers are willing to exclude a major element of Shakur’s story, seemingly in the interest of petty score-settling; they also make sure to take a shot at Singleton later, and frame it as a betrayal.
“I knew they weren’t going to make a good movie at all and they didn’t,” Singleton told HipHopDX in November, not that he’d seen the film – or even its trailer. “I haven’t watched it and I refuse to watch it. I know that they fucked it up so I’m not even trying to give it any attention.” Yeah, he should probably keep to that policy.