Michel’le, Public Opinion, and Just How Important Domestic Violence Awareness Education Really Is
This post is coming a day late, as yesterday I was heavily immersed in work and research, so I didn’t get a chance to pen this post then. It’s fine though because it is still so relevant. Let’s get right into it.
Last weekend, Lifetime released Surviving Compton, a bit of a counter-movie to the explosively popular Straight Outta Compton, the movie, produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube about the creation and destruction of NWA, arguably, the most influential rap group in the 80s and 90s that helped to pioneer a lot of what made gangsta music and hip hop what it is today. In the movie, there was one woman that was oddly and obviously nearly mute in the Straight Outta Compton film. For those of us that remember the group back in the 90s and that grew up watching them, watching SOC and her small role in the film, it was a headscratcher from jump and it arose many questions. That woman was Michel’le Toussaint, the high-pitched speaking, yet enormously strong singing voiced woman of the hit “Something In My Heart”.
When I saw Straight Outta Compton, I was captivated by the characters, the casting, and the acting. Everything, with the exception of Eazy-E’s casting, seemed to be spot on and on the mark. However, when Michel’le was portrayed in the movie briefly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that after the movie, I asked my best friend, whom I saw the movie with, “was Michel’le in the movie? I think she was but I can’t even remember”. And that’s weird and something to note because even though Michel’le wasn’t a member of NWA, she was a member of Ruthless Records and her being a member of Ruthless Records also included her public relationship with Dr. Dre, who was not only a producer of the movie but was at the beginning of Ruthless and NWA as well. Michel’le was also romantically involved heavily with Suge Knight, the thug in music who was at the cornerstone of the deaths of both Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac and who is now serving time in jail for another killing that he was inadvertently involved in. To top off the fact that she was heavily involved with these men, who were no doubt abusive to her physically, emotionally, verbally, and in some cases financially and spiritually, she also has a child with each of them. That’s the synopsis, so her not being portrayed in all but a few lines in SOC was questionable at best and shady at worst. For that reason alone, I supported the decision for Michel’le to tell her side of things from her point of view, while simultaneously sharing her domestic violence story.
Let’s get one thing straight and out of the way: I am a survivor and mentor of domestic violence. I am an advocate and I am trained and educated in the psyche of domestic violence victims and survivors. With that said, as I watched the movie and even the documentary that followed afterward (I first saw the documentary because I was busy with a wedding during the day. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw the movie itself), I was also on social media watching the statuses of people that are clearly uneducated on domestic violence picking apart her story and questioning its credibility. What’s worse is I also witnessed people that are pro-domestic violence awareness education dismantling her story and adding in other things to it that negated the point of the movie in the first place.
I shouldn’t be surprised in the slightest. By this point, I am pretty accustomed to being disappointed by people and shown just how little respect women are afforded. However, even though I am used to seeing these things, it is no less bothersome and even triggering for my spirit and my psyche. The double standards of women and men bother me greatly as it applies to what is more acceptable and looked away and the ridicule and fact-checking of women and their personal testimonies as it pertains to how they are treated behind closed doors. Whenever a woman recalls that she is being mistreated, abused, or even raped, it is questioned, judged, and we are even convinced that she needs more people. Worse, the topic is deflected and her overall relationship history is brought up, whispered about, and ridiculed (“Michel’le was even with __________ as well, but you didn’t get it from me”). It is a disgusting display and sets the victim up for further objectification and harm and instead of people using their platforms to help spread awareness and proper education tools on the harrowing statistics of domestic violence within the Black community, we objectify, make jokes, and create the catalysts for rumors to take flight at the victim’s expense and I, for one, am tired of that narrative. It’s abuse on the victim all over again and it is completely unnecessary.
Conversely, what I have been noticing since the airing of Surviving Compton is….many people, women and men alike, only “believe” the abuse that Dr. Dre doled out repeatedly for Michel’le because last year, after being interviewed after the release of Straight Outta Compton, he confessed to abusing her (and Ms. Dee Barnes) during their relationship and claimed himself to be a changed man. Since Dr. Dre has always been notoriously private when it came to his personal life and has always moved in a very calculated manner with respect to his brands, his partnering relationships and beyond, we, the people had no reason to question him further. We accepted him at face value. We accepted his side, his admission, and his testimony he made of his growth henceforth and that was pretty much that.
When are we going to take the victim’s testimony at face value? Why can’t we stop picking apart and fact-checking her personal and very private accounts of her abuse? At what point does her previous relationships manner? Why does she have to have an ulterior motive? In the same ways that we can easily say, “well why didn’t she come forward about this before” (in Michel’le’s case, she was as vocal as she could be about it at the time. Back in the 90s, my dad even told me about how Dre roughed her up quite a bit, so it was pretty much known information even then), why haven’t we asked why Dr. Dre and Ice Cube decided to create Straight Outta Compton in the first place, seeing as NWA has been defunct and “in the past” for over 20 years. Where is the analyzing of “their motive”? For me, my only question was, “why were extremely important members of the SOC story left out or minimized?” I mean even DJ Yella’s role was miniscule and he was a founding component of Ruthless and the World Class Wreckin’ Crew. Why was Michel’le’s role so small when she was there before they even had a basketball to shoot at the gym?
“Why was Michel’le’s role so small when she was there before they even had a basketball to shoot at the gym?”
People legitimately need to be educated more on the perils of domestic violence as it pertains to the Black community and the perspective of the victims as it pertains to the overall psyche and persona. The logic-driven response of “she must have liked it since she went from one abuser to the next” is faulty as hell and played to the core. No one LIKES being abused. Do you realize how idiotic that sounds? There is no “love of being hit and roughed up”. There is, however, a lot of manipulation done to the victim by the abuser. There absolutely is such thing as an abuser PREYING on their victim. There is also such thing is trapping your victim and purposely getting them pregnant as a means to remove their power and keep them under your need and control. I am not saying that Michel’le was trapped by either Dr. Dre or Suge (though I believe she may have been trapped by Suge, because he openly and privately threatened her and “Dre’s son Marcel” on more than one occasion), but threats are very real and powerlessness is a progressive and calculated act that includes preying on a potential victim and strategically breaking them down emotionally via physical, verbal, mental, sexual, spiritual, and financial abuse tactics. These are facts and I even wrote about the statistics of domestic violence victims here. Check it out and learn you something.
I am glad that Michel’le survived to tell her story and more importantly, I am glad that we are talking about it. Talking about domestic violence and trying to educate the masses triggers me at times because the ignorance can be very real and sometimes my spirit cannot deal, but for those that I do reach, I am grateful that I have been able to play a part, however big or small, in helping to spread that awareness and education.