We all know it is not uncommon for a few films each year to get snubbed by the Oscars. However, the exception in 2015's voting was an obvious lack of diversity, especially when it came to the outstanding NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton which was completely overlooked (apart from the Best Original Screenplay nomination). Now, the argument here is not towards Hollywood's poor race relations (although it's a glaring factor), it's about figuring out what it would take for a hip-hop biopic to get the Best Picture nomination (since it didn't work with impressive films including Notorious and 8 Mile).
For years it would seem the Academy has had a formulaic breakdown to their voting, often shying away from certain films because of political, social, or even personal differences with the industry. In this case, the nature of the hip-hop world would throw up some red flags due to intense debauchery, drug abuse, gang relations, and even police brutality. That does not mean there's not a wealth of great story telling in this somewhat underground community, and shame on the Academy for not having the open mind to allow these stories to reach the acclaim they deserve. Though, since the genre of the hip-hop biopic is young, there's plenty of time to see a Best Picture nomination, so let's look at other possible projects that could fit the bill.
First on the list of Academy worthy hip-hop biopics, the sage himself, Tupac Shakur. Arguably the most celebrated hip-hop artist of all time, the man was a true artist and poet with deep roots in black liberation. His career uniquely began on the stage where he tackled Shakespeare and tip toed through a few ballets to later get picked up by Digital Underground as a backup dancer. As his talent flourished, he quickly became one of the most influential rappers of all time, gaining notice from almost everyone in the industry. But throughout this moment in the limelight, he did not have the best relations with authority and spent the better part of '95 in prison. All the while, 2Pac made some very close friends and enemies, and is also known for the greatest feud in hip-hop history (Biggie VS Pac).
So what are the chances this film could get nominated? Pretty solid actually, with a dynamic lead character who is beloved by the entertainment industry, and had an extremely dramatic and diverse lifestyle, a Tupac biopic might have the best recipe for some Oscar buzz. With that being said, the film (All Eyez On Me) is actually in production with director Benny Boom, and newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr playing the role of 2Pac. Granted, they possibly should have shot for an "A-List" crew to produce an Academy Award winning project, but it still has the potential.
Next on the list to add a little flavor (pun intended) is Public Enemy. As a group that is both a part of the Music, and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, Public Enemy can be considered for laying the groundwork of the hip hop community. Their music was politically charged and contained a lot of criticism toward the American media, and yet they were one of the first hip-hop groups to achieve international fame. The group was originally formed by Chuck D and Flavor Flav (who have since gone on to expand their fame independently), and they took a pioneering stance on "black lives matter" in the music industry.
A number of Public Enemy's albums have achieved a level of gold or platinum which is not exactly typical of popular hip-hop acts. Public Enemy's influence stretched wide on political front, having a hand in the national recognition of Martin Luther King Jr., and were also cited by the likes of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails for poetic impact. As far as an Academy Award worthy biopic, Public Enemy has decades of potential career highlights, and plenty of controversies to give it that Hollywood pizzazz. However, Chuck D in a recent interview stated the difficulty of producing a feature, and the years of work required to make it possible. Still, their story has the workings of some extreme silver screen intrigue.
Topping the list is an early battle of hip-hop legends known famously as... The Bridge Wars. As somewhat of a metaphoric fight for the holy land, the dispute was founded on the true birthplace of hip-hop. The two artists most famously involved in the conflict were KRS-One with Boogie Down Productions, and Marley Marl's Juice Crew (who are both known as crucial innovators in the world of hip-hop). It started as a hostile, but nonviolent, back and forth attack on each other through different tracks they would release in their albums. One side claiming Queensbridge ("The Bridge") had the earliest roots in hip-hop, and then a few heated responses from the Bronx (including "The Bridge is Over") as a way to discredit the theory.
Eventually, in what is said to be an unrelated dispute, a member of the BDP (Boogie Down Productions) was shot dead only fueling the hatred themes in the songs that followed. Overall, the story itself may not be not immensely popular, but the players involved have a rich history in the music industry. It also began a trend that is basically synonymous with hip-hop artists- the feud! Odds of this being explored by production companies are low, but with a proper screenplay that demonstrates the enormous effect the Bridge Wars had on hip-hop as a whole, this could make for a very heavy hitting drama (which is a favorite of the Academy).
The art of the biopic itself is one of most frequently explored avenues in Hollywood, so it wouldn't be surprising to see more pop up in the vein of hip-hop (the suggestions in this post were simply the tip of the iceberg). As far as the Academy is concerned, there have recently been huge steps made toward improving Oscar diversity, with strict guidelines on relevant voting. Whether it was due to competition, lack of quality, or even some prejudice in the industry, it's a shame that the hip-hop films prior did not achieve the acclaim they may have deserved. As far as going forward, it'd be nice to see a continual pursuit for diversity and some more damn good filmmaking that give thanks to the strength of street knowledge!