Who Is Ready For the Suge Knight Cinematic Universe?

By  · Published on August 18th, 2015

Universal Pictures

There may not be a need for a straight sequel to Straight Outta Compton, if only because the film’s end credits feature a montage showing us the paths of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (including the former’s Hollywood career and the latter’s success with Beats) following the death of Eazy-E. However, there does appear to be some desire for a spinoff or two. And given the box office success of Compton, I don’t see how Universal could resist doing at least one of them.

The obvious first choice would seem to be a Tupac Shakur film, mainly because there’s been promise of this for years. John Singleton, who gave Ice Cube his movie break with Boyz n the Hood and also directed Shakur in Poetic Justice, was attached to a feature for Morgan Creek Productions (which has often worked with Universal as a distributor). But he dropped out for creative reasons – Carl Franklin is now directing – and has said he might do his own.

Franklin has reportedly been on a search for his leading man, but if Singleton does move ahead, resulting in dueling Tupac biopics, he should just work with the people behind Compton and get lookalike Marcc Rose to reprise the role. The only problem might be that Rose isn’t an experienced actor, plus his vocals were dubbed by longtime Tupac impersonator Darris Love, who has been acting since he was a kid and is supposedly already involved with some Shakur biopic or other.

It would be nice to have consistency in portrayals of famous persons, as much as it’s normal to see the same actor play Iron Man or Captain America in each installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (never mind that the MCU and the X-Men universe have two different actors playing different versions of Quicksilver). We already saw Shakur played relatively recently by Anthony Mackie (the MCU’s Falcon) in the 2009 Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious. Wouldn’t it be nice for Universal to pin down one guy to play the late rapper in multiple movies in a shared-universe franchise?

Call it the Suge Knight Cinematic Universe, because the intimidating music mogul has had some involvement in the lives of most West Coast hip hop artists and many representing the East Coast, too. And others not associated with either of those rival locations. He’s like the Thanos of the rap world, except he’s even more of a titanic figure and he’s actually much scarier. And like Thanos, he could be seen portrayed earlier (by Sean Ringgold in Notorious and many years ago by Anthony Norris in the VH1 TV movie Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story), before a more proper actor took on the role.

R. Marcos Taylor does a good enough job in Compton that he deserves to return for not only a Tupac movie but also a Snoop spinoff starring Keith Stanfield — who we’ve loved since his role as a young amateur rapper in Short Term 12 and who does an amazing, spot-on job in his few Compton scenes. Taylor’s Knight can also reprise the “character” in various-length appearances for a Vanilla Ice biopic, an MC Hammer biopic (another one, for the big screen), a Bobby Brown biopic and films about Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Luther Campbell/2 Live Crew, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kanye West and comedian Katt Williams (aka rapper Money Mike).

Knight could even have his own biopic. But in the end there needs to be a movie that comes full-circle solely about the making of Straight Outta Compton that includes the incident where Knight showed up to the set of a promo for the film, in protest of its portrayal of his likeness, and wound up killing fellow record producer Terry Carter. An incident for which he’s now in jail awaiting a murder trial. That movie would, of course, cast another actor as Taylor and end with the making of itself, so then another actor playing the actor playing Taylor…

Maybe it’s silly to consider a biopic shared universe given that the shared universe involved is just actual real life, but does anyone else find it jarring when a real figure is played by different actors in different movies? At least in as close a span of time as, say, the two MLKs of The Butler and Selma? Of course, Martin Luther King Jr. has been portrayed by a whole ton of actors over the last 50 years. So has Nelson Mandela and Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe and President Nixon and plenty others (see last year’s piece asking if a person can be portrayed too many times). Hollywood needs to be more like Saturday Night Live with its presidential portrayals and eventually figure out who is the most definitive person for each figure and stick with them for a good while.

That’s how I felt when I saw David Oyelowo’s MLK and wanted more of him, and only him, in other films about the civil rights leader. And biopic spinoffs seem to be proposed all the time now, for famous people we might not have thought needed their own life stories told on film. There are those who really want Brandon Mychal Smith to reprise his role from Get On Up for a movie strictly focused on Little Richard. And I’ve seen a few people state their wish for the Stanfield-as-Snoop movie (and of course Corey Hawkins can return as Dr. Dre). And who hasn’t wanted a Beatles in India movie starring Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman – never mind that Walk Hard is a biopic parody, not an actual biopic?

Yes, it makes sense for there to be different portrayals of the same person, because there are different perceptions that lead to different takes on people and that’s why we regularly get dueling biopics. But there are also some figures out there, like Knight, who are so tied to multiple fascinating famous lives that they demand to be at the center of a biopic franchise. And some producer out there has to step up to be its Kevin Feige. If not for a franchise based around Knight and rap music, then how about one tied together through Charles Manson based on the recent series of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.