'All Eyez on Me': The Legal Battle Over Bringing Tupac's Life to the Screen

Unlike Benny Boom's biopic (out June 16), which spawned a court battle over the rapper's life rights, Steve McQueen's upcoming untitled doc has received full support from the Shakur Estate.
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Tupac Shakur (right), who died in 1996, with Snoop at that year's American Music Awards.

Tupac Shakur's family has finally backed a movie.

Amaru Entertainment, founded by the rap icon's late mother, Afeni Shakur, is getting behind Steve McQueen's untitled documentary, announced May 9.

Not so All Eyez on Me, the Lionsgate biopic that hits theaters June 16 and has co-producers Morgan Creek and Emmett/Furla warring in court over production decisions. Sources say Shakur's family is not a fan of the movie.

The conflict started in 2009 when Morgan Creek sued Amaru in a dispute about Shakur's life rights. The parties settled in 2011, with Morgan Creek getting permission to proceed. But the project remained in gestation until 2015, when its option was about to expire. Probably adding to the urgency was the $200 million global gross of Universal's N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Shakur's camp was upset. The heirs might have hoped to regain rights to make their own version, and a look at an early cut of All Eyez on Me did nothing to lift their spirits. Insiders say they view the film as a lightweight movie that isn't particularly accurate. Afeni, who died in May 2016, is not listed as an executive producer despite her right to the credit. She also was angry about not being meaningfully consulted about the director. She liked Antoine Fuqua (who originally was on board) and had approved John Singleton but didn't explicitly bless the eventual helmer, Benny Boom, known mostly for music videos.

L.T. Hutton, a producer on the film, says Boom was on a circulated list of proposed directors as early as 2008 and that those who have watched the film — including Snoop Dogg, Big Boi and Busta Rhymes — enjoyed it. "Martha Stewart saw it and went crazy," he says. "I am beyond proud. I don't know why anyone would want to sabotage this."

The settlement's confidentiality clause has prevented Shakur's estate from voicing its thoughts about All Eyez on Me, and the silence is telling. When production companies buy life rights, cooperation is typically included. That evidently only goes so far. 

Now, as All Eyez on Me is set for release,  Amaru is getting behind Steve McQueen’s untitled documentary. Thanks to the old settlement, the documentary won’t be coming out until at least a year after All Eyez on Me, but it wouldn’t be ready before then anyway. The hope by those associated with the McQueen project including Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures and Jayson Jackson is that it scores in the market like Amy, the 2015 documentary about Amy Winehouse that earned critical adulation and a modest but profitable gross in theaters and through VOD.

This story first appeared in the May 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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