During the filming of a commercial for Straight Outta Compton, the biopic focused on the seminal rap group NWA’s rise to success and acclaim in the face of adversity, Suge Knight (a successful star in the music industry) allegedly ran down in his car two of the men attached to the film. Of the pair, Cle “Bone” Sloan (who achieved fame by another work bridging art and crime, the documentary Bastards of the Party) survived, while the other, Terry Carter, died. Mr. Carter’s wife filed suit against Knight, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre, the latter two being members of NWA connected with the film, were all sued by the late Mr. Carter’s wife for wrongful death. And even though Cle Sloan actively refused to testify against his supposed attacker either way, the prosecution into the vehicular assault was not thrown out. There is no good way to summarize any of that, so I shall leave it as is, a testament to one of the most mind-boggling events to come out of a commercial’s set.
Straight Outta Compton, as stated before, covered the rise of NWA, and is coated in the aesthetics of the black community in LA, police oppression, and the ultimate conflict between the musicians and authority. It follows NWA’s rise and dissolution, which was fraught with conflict against the authority, including actually being condemned by the FBI. More to the point, it also portrays Mr. Knight in what we could call a negative light. We could also call it as a “violent and abusive” light; certainly, it is not flattering. This therefore makes the incident not entirely in his favor.
But there are countless other angles on which we could observe this case. Take Mr. Sloan. What would make a man, with some security, refuse to testify against his attacker? Fear? Hardly. His actual position was that he would “not be used to send Suge Knight to prison,” and that he refused to be “a snitch.” This in the face of Knight’s attorneys, who held the position that Knight was trying to escape Sloan and Carter, who were attacking him, and that running his car into two fifty year old men was self-defense and nothing more. Given Mr. Sloan’s history as a member of the Crips, this philosophy can be understood, especially in light of Mr. Sloan’s on documentary on his gang, the aforementioned Bastards of the Party. In it, Mr. Sloan pressed the view that the only way one could help the men in the gangs was from the inside, not the outside. One must be a part of the Crips and Bloods if one is to have any chance at reforming them. This means more than having one’s name on a roster; inside the gang means inside their philosophy, their ethos. And their ethos has nothing positive to say about a man that testifies against one of his fellows in court. Even when offered full immunity, the most the old gangster was willing to say was that he had punched Mr. Knight through the window, and nothing more. Mr. Sloan’s work and Straight Outta Compton both reflect a certain philosophy on interaction with the law, which can be stated no more clearly than in one of NWA’s most infamous songs, “Fuck tha Police.” Interaction with the cops is ultimately negative, and it is better to have your case fall through, to avoid saying what will send your attacker to jail, than to in any way be seen as working together with the authorities. Though of course, it may well be that Mr. Sloan does not wish to talk because he somehow possesses a share of the guilt. Clearly he thinks so; he views the situation as one where he “screwed up, and Terry’s dead.” Admittedly, his desire not to be seen as a “snitch” and the other circumstances make this somewhat difficult to believe fully. That is beside the point. The point is that he will not testify, out of a desire to protect the man who ran him over, causing intense physical damage, from prison.
The situation, it is clear, was a total disaster. And it seems somehow—not surprising, not fitting—thematically appropriate that a lawsuit which originated in a work tied to gang culture should progress as such. We cannot tell what Suge Knight or Cle Sloan or any of those involved really thought, or did. What we can see is a strange incident, and the work of art to which it is irrevocably tied.