Nick Broomfield | Biggie & Tupac

To start, I'd like to know where you began in filmmaking. Have you always done documentaries?

When I was at university studying law and urban planning, I did a film about slum clearance in Liverpool. I enjoyed it, and decided that's what I was going to do instead of law. So I went to the National Film School in England. A professor there had been at UCLA, and he was really into anthropological observational filmmaking, and that's kind of what I was taught-what was basically more crude, to kind of follow a story and let a film develop, rather than bringing a firm concept to it. My training was you select your subject, and you allow it to define itself, rather than you defining it in a proactive way. You know, working with crews of two or three.

After doing Heidi Fleiss and Kurt and Courtney, what was it that attracted you to do this story of two rappers being murdered?

I've been doing a series of films about iconic characters. Obviously, [Biggie and Tupac] are incredible icons, and representative of a whole other way to, especially, black America. At the same time, I'd spent a number of years living in Los Angeles and I wanted to do something about the Los Angeles Police Department. And I also wanted to do something about black America. All of these things sort of brought me into the story.

This is clearly a movie that necessitated a fair amount of research. What sources did you look to for that research, and to what extent did you look into hip-hop culture, music, and history before beginning your filming?

I suppose I saw this film as being largely a murder investigation. So the main source of research was the murder book which had been compiled by the LAPD. A lot of the interviews stemmed from what we found in the murder book. I obviously read all the other books on Tupac and Biggie and any magazine article that I could get my hands on, and I listened to all their music and any hip-hop music that I thought was relevant. Just so I knew as much as possible about that world.

The reason I ask is because a discussion of the music, of the actual art form of these two individuals, is noticeably absent from the film. For instance, when you interview Mopreme from the Outlawz, who rapped on the song "Hit 'Em Up," possibly one of the most inflammatory rap songs in history, I kind of felt an absence there of the music.

There's a lot more about Biggie's music in the film because we were able to get access to his music. But we weren't able to get any of Tupac's. I mean, I would have loved to put in just what you're talking about. But I think one actually needed to be able to listen to it; there's not much point in talking about a piece of music that you can't hear in the film. I thought that generally it would have been great to do much more a kind of musical assessment of Tupac. Chico and those people talk about Biggie's music, and how he composed music, and how he operated, but then we have much more of his stuff. There's that very early stuff of Biggie rapping in the street, and much more of that kind of material.

Why was Voletta Wallace so willing to spend so much time with you?

Volletta Wallace is a very, very remarkable person who, despite the tragedy, has managed by some miracle to retain her belief in people. Many people have ripped her off and have made out that they're going to do a murder investigation into her son's death and actually done nothing. She's such a Christian woman, too, and has so much hope and belief that everything is going to be alright in the end, that when she realized that we were very serious about trying to get to the bottom of what had happened, she cooperated as much as she could. I think she believed in us. We're still in touch; we have a very good relationship. I think there was just a belief that we were genuine and sincere; that we were doing a great deal of work; that we would move the case on. In fact, we have-they are, in fact, reopening the case. The FBI and LAPD are investigation people again, and I'm very hopeful that they're going to come up with an arrest this year. A number of people seem to think they will.

As an Englishman, do you think your status as an outsider helped or hurt your investigation? Were people more willing to speak with you because they saw you as a foreigner?

I think ultimately, as an Englishman, I was less frightened of black Americans than my white American friends who were terrified and convinced I was going to get shot. As a European, I think one's much more prepared to go into a black neighborhood like Compton or Watts and just see what happens than native Los Angelians who think Compton and Watts are kind of like the way the Boogieman is, and instantly something is going to happen to them. Most of them have never been there. So I think it was more just not knowing so much, not being so inundated with folk culture which is phobic of those communities. I was maybe more open to what I found. You know, when the film was released, the theater owners were so panicked that there was going to be mass gang warfare in the theaters that we had to hire policemen for each screen. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, we had to have two security guards in each screen and it was costing a fortune to release the film.

One of the most powerful scenes takes place in the jail, and there's the warden who appears visibly frightened, or at least intimidated by Suge Knight. What was your impression of Suge and his waxing philanthropic?

Well, I think he's very interesting. I think Suge is very much a product of what happens in those black neighborhoods. I don't think he's intrinsically evil or terrible, but he grew up among the cocaine wars that were operating in the neighborhoods. So I think part of what he's saying is actually genuine. And then there's the other part, that he's so vengeful and vindictive that he couldn't resist almost putting a contract on Snoop. But I think behind all this is all the drugs in the neighborhood, and growing up in that community where the chances of doing anything have diminished rather than increased in the last 20 years. Suge was so surrounded by violence that he's kind of just repeating what's happened. I hope that [the film] is making a bigger statement than just pointing the finger at one evil guy. I hope that that comes across.

Perhaps the scariest thing about the film is the idea that the corruption of the LAPD runs too deep and is too widespread to ever be stopped. Knowing what you do now, do you think there's any hope of the LAPD returning to a point of legitimacy, assuming there ever was a point of legitimacy?

Part of the problem in L.A. is that the main bulk of the citizenship there-which is rich, white people-don't care what the Los Angeles Police Department does as long as the Beverly Center and Rodeo Drive don't get attacked by a mob. I don't think they care very much that people's rights are abused. I think that's the situation that has enabled the LAPD to be so notoriously badly behaved for as long as one can remember. The police chief has changed, and I think he's got a much better reputation; he comes from back east. So there's hope, I think there's always hope, but I think that until people in Los Angeles really care about the abuses of illegal immigrants and they care about what really happens between the police in places like Compton and Watts, and don't just turn a blind eye to the extensive force that's been going on forever, it's not really going to change, because those are the powerful voices of the community. I think that they've made a few concessions: they've got more black police on the force; it used to be an entirely almost white Marine force. But I don't think the basic outlook of the Los Angeles Police Department has changed very much.

What was your reaction to finding out that off-duty LAPD officers were actually working Suge Knight, a recognized felon?

It's a kind of abuse that was allowed to go on. In 1995, at the L.A. Theatre, Snoop was performing and there was a fight between the Crips and the Bloods. Someone was kicked to death. And this happened in front of four or five off-duty LAPD officers who ran away rather than being involved. They LAPD knew about them, they knew about the incident, and still, even after all of that, this continued on with police officers working off-duty for Death Row. You just wonder how this was allowed to happen, what they were thinking of. How even when Biggie was shot and killed, there were three off-duty Inglewood cops in the car behind him who again ran off after the shooting. I just feel that in Los Angeles, until a couple of white people got killed in Westwood in the early '90s, a gang shooting in Westwood and two innocent white bystanders got killed, the Los Angeles Police force and the drug department were doing nothing really investigating what was happening in Compton and Watts. The real attitude was that these are just gang-bangers killing each other. And they were almost delighted that they were killing each other and that they wouldn't have to kill them. They were kind of eradicating each other. It was only when the drug sales started spreading that the LAPD did anything.

Did you try to meet with Afeni Shakur?

Oh yeah, we really did. We did some filming with the Outlawz at the beginning of the film, and then Michele D'Acosta, the producer, had continuous communication with Afeni's people-with her lawyer and a couple other people-and things were going along well. Then they said [they'd] like to get a list from [us] of everyone we'd talked to and see if there are other people we should talk to, and blah, blah, blah. In good faith, Michele provided them with this list, and they then said, ‘Oh, we don't want to take part, if Billy Garland [Tupac's biological father] talked to you.' Then they contacted the Outlawz and said how dare you do this interview with them because we control your record label. We want to do our own film, and we don't want you talking to these people who we regard as competition. It was around this time that I thought, well, this is ridiculous. We've been trying to include them, and now it's like we're the competition. We're rivals. I know that Afeni was working with MTV on a film about Tupac, but I'm sure it was an entirely different film. Ours was more a political investigation that I thought someone with Afeni's background in the Black Panthers would have seen the point to it, even if she wasn't making the film herself. But that didn't happen. So we started getting increasing numbers of phone calls from her lawyer, who then started calling Channel Four and browbeating them and calling my lawyers up. My lawyers would come in, and because of the time difference here, there'd be like ten messages from Afeni's lawyers. And they would just carry on and on and on. It was a disappointment. And then I heard a lot of other stuff, like Tupac's friends were very anti-Afeni.

Because of what she's done since his death?

I think her liason with Suge Knight. They were talking, apparently. I've avoided going into all that because I didn't think it was necessary. But I think a lot of weird stuff is going on.

Do you think most of that centers around how they're dealing with the release of his remaining music?

Well, yeah. I think that's a large part of it. I'm sure like a lot of other things it comes down to money.

Finally, do you believe, having done all this, do you think these two murders were connected and orchestrated by the same criminal mind? Do these pieces add up to one grand project?

Yes, I do. I think it was explained away as being this East Coast/West Coast thing, which I think is something borrowed from the demise of the Black Panthers. Tupac and Biggie started off as great friends who were kind of turned into enemies by people who had other plans for them. I think that's the tragedy of the story. And I do think that, ultimately, the same people were responsible, out of a vengefulness and bitterness, and a struggle with false pride. All those things contributed to cause this to happen. 

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