‘Dear Mama’ reveals how Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur gave him his rebel heart

There may not be a hip-hop artist as mythologized as Tupac Shakur – after all, this is an icon, who released so many posthumous albums (seven in fact) after his death in 1996 that some fans began half-jokingly speculating: à la Elvis rumors , that he wasn’t actually dead, but was secretly continuing to record. Dear mum unfortunately does not reveal that Tupac has been in hiding for 26 years. Still, director Allen Hughes’ five-part docuseries, the first installment of which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and will air this fall on FX, seeks to shed some illuminating light on the subject by reimagining his rise to fame through the prism of his upbringing with his mother, Afeni Shakur.

The bond between Tupac and Afeni has not gone unnoticed over the decades; Hughes’ series is even named after the hit single that the rapper wrote about her. Nevertheless, Dear mum intends to be an intertwined dual biography, illustrating how Afeni’s tenure in the Black Panther movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped shape her son, who consequently grew up in an environment of proud, defiant Black activism . As the premiere makes clear, Tupac took the lessons passed down from his mother to heart, extolling from an early age a Black Power ethos that was as unfiltered as it was passionate — and also potentially risky, given that his candor was not used to be. always welcomed with open arms and ears. At the same time, the relationship between Tupac and Afeni had its own tensions, thanks in large part to the latter’s ongoing addiction to crack cocaine in the 1980s.

That is all covered in Dear mum‘s first episode, though not necessarily with the clarity one might hope for in an investigative biographical series such as this one. Hughes is certainly not lacking in archival material. Particularly enlightening is an extended clip of Tupac, as a 17-year-old Tamalpais High School student, speaking eloquently about his mother, racism, injustice, and the rocky path that took him to that Marin City, California, point in his life that was preceded by stops in New York City and Baltimore. There is also footage of him as an emerging artist, on stage with his first groups, and then with Digital Underground, who first put him in the spotlight and gave him a platform to prove he was a unique voice to be heard. become. Outtakes from the studio and film sets, as well as photos from the late ’80s and early ’90s, round out a package that showcases and celebrates Tupac’s personality and creativity, conveying both his fervor, gentleness, and sense of humor.

At the same time as it brings Tupac to life (figuratively), it also uses audio recordings of Afeni to capture her story and spirit. Born in Lumberton, North Carolina, she and her oldest sister Glo moved to New York in 1960 with their mother, but not their alcoholic, two-time truck driver father. After hearing a speech from Bobby Seale, Afeni quickly filled in with the Black Panthers, became Lumumba Shakur’s second wife, and rose to the position of section leader (which, the docuseries explains, was akin to a lieutenant). At the episode’s sharpest moment, Glo refuses to say anything negative about her late sister (other than “she got on my nerves”), but she speaks unflatteringly about Lumumba, while Afeni’s Black Panther friend Jamal gets nostalgic about the charisma and the intensity of the man. . That friction then extends to the two individuals’ vastly different memories of the Panthers’ behavior when it came to narcotics, with Glo speaking derisively about all the drugs they used and Jamal stating that the organization was committed to eradicating those destructive substances in their community. .

Two contradictory things can, of course, be true at the same time, and in these passages, Dear mum suggests it’s interested in exploring the messiness of Tupac and Afeni’s loyal if contentious union. However, for most of his hour-long opening salvo, Hughes avoids additional complications, instead trying to lay the groundwork for his upcoming look at Tupac’s heyday. Unfortunately, he does this through a structure that eschews straightforward chronological storytelling in favor of scattershot flip-flopping between past and present. Trying to create balance and harmony between Tupac and Afeni’s stories makes sense thematically, but Hughes’s edits don’t create parallels between his time periods so much as they mix up different incidents and experiences. As a result, much is mentioned, albeit often without the contextualization or cause-and-effect flow that would allow us to trace the life routes of these individuals.

“Trying to create balance and harmony between Tupac and Afeni’s stories makes sense thematically, but Hughes’s edits don’t create parallels between his time periods so much as they mix up different incidents and experiences.”

Dear mum will run for five hours and yet by the end of the first episode it’s already gone through its entire pre-fame years – that is, the very formative phase with Afeni that seems to be central to this endeavor. Hughes has numerous speakers discussing Tupac and Afeni’s shared worldview, and that link is felt most powerfully in both a 1989 performance by Tupac and a series on the origins of his debut album. 2Pacalypse now‘s “Trapped,” which Hughes plays while simultaneously showing a sheet of Tupac’s handwritten lyrics. In his angry and anguished rhymes about American intolerance and oppression, both historical and regarding modern police officers, Afeni’s influence on her son is loud and clear. Whether it’s the idea that Tupac would head up a new Black Panthers organization if his music career failed, or Afeni’s role in the militant group (including as a central figure in the Panther 21, a group of 21 Black Panther charged with planning bombings of police stations and an education bureau in NYC in 1969, but were acquitted after it was revealed at trial that undercover officers were largely responsible). place affair.

Admittedly, things may come into focus during subsequent episodes. Still, Hughes’s formal approach raises major concerns for the rest of Dear mumwhich initially offers a collection of fascinating glimpses of Tupac and Afeni, as well as a general idea about their common cause and perspective, but nothing cohesive enough to qualify as a highly compelling portrait of either brand.

‘Dear Mama’ reveals how Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur gave him his rebel heart

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