Biggie and Tupac: Broomfied Controversial Documentary

Nick Broomfield completed his gangsta rap docu, Biggie and Tupac, despite threats and other problems. Nothing is new: With documentaries such as Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam and Kurt & Courtney, he is used to being criticized and his work to be controversial and irritating.

In Biggie and Tupac, he investigates the unsolved murders of hip-hop stars Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious BIG. He shows some evidence of alleged cover-up and corruption involving the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), as well as execs of the music industry. He questions the FBI’s role in the story.

Due to volatile nature of the material, by the end of the shoot, Broomfield was literally chased out of town with menaces. For him, Biggie and Tupac is a “political film,” because “here is a country that hasn’t really moved on from J. Edgar Hoover’s days. Their horror that a black messiah is going to come along and undermine the white establishment–that, in its crudest form, is what’s still going on, and that’s why they don’t give a f about solving these murders.”

As in most of his docus, Broomfield appears on camera, seen as he conducts investigations with an oversize microphone (he doubles as sound-recorder), He says he is proud of striding boldly into places where a white, middle-class, 54-year-old Englishman couldn’t be more conspicuous, Downtown Los Angeles, capital of gangsta rap.

Broomfield uses a variety of tactics, including charms and flirts, bullying and barging. He gets into trouble, but gets nowhere. There is no attempt to convey objectivity, the aspiration of most documentaries. “What you’re doing,” he suggests, “is rolling back the boundary and saying, ‘What is valid information for an audience?’ I think this is more accurate and exciting and interesting.”

Biggie and Tupac has already had major repercussions: It brings together people connected with the case who had never met before, and by following up leads that the police investigation overlooked. As a result, Broomfield has uncovered some new and strategic evidence.
More specifically, his work has prompted Biggie Smalls’s mother to file a massive lawsuit against the LAPD, alleging that its chief “delayed and stopped the investigation” and that “officers employed by the LAPD were involved in the murder”. Her allegations are denied by the LAPD.

Known for investigative skills and sheer persistence, Broomfield is one of the most aggressive documentarians. Some consider this particular work among his most important docus. “They are all different films,” he says. “They’re about different questions, and you’re answering them in different ways. You wouldn’t use a grappling iron if you’re walking across the desert, but you will if you’re climbing up a mountain.” Isn’t it true, then, that he’s used nothing but grappling irons since the Eighties? “That is true,” he admits. “I’ve pretty much refined a style, which I’ve applied to different situations.”

Broomfield’s style defines the situation. It’s possible to imagine a Biggie and Tupac which, rather than showing his adventures in the ghetto, says more about the institutions: the secret history of the FBI and the Black Panthers; or the LAPD’s “Rampart” corruption scandal, which the film refers to, but never really explains.

Broomfield told the Daily Telegraph, on May 11, 2002: “My feeling was that if you did a film about Biggie and Tupac, it’s obviously a much bigger film. You’re going to get a theatrical release, reach an audience who are pretty apolitical, and you might even manage to pull them into a different arena. I mean, we’re going through a very apolitical period, which is celebrity-bonkers-obsessed.”