NEW YORK – (CNN) – For the stars of “Straight Outta Compton,” not much has changed in terms of the tension between police and African Americans since the days of the influential rap group N.W.A.
The Universal biopic, which opens Friday, depicts the anger in the streets of South Los Angeles during the late 1980s – an anger that spawned the landmark group that included members like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.
Even though the film takes place nearly 30 years ago, a similar scene has been playing out throughout the year with the “Black Lives Matter” movement and protests in New York City, Baltimore, and this week in Ferguson, Missouri.
“The only thing that’s changed is, we all say, is the time and the technology. That’s it,” actor Corey Hawkins told CNN at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Monday.
Like another film in recent months, “Selma” – about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. – “Compton” is being released at a time of heightened racial tension and many of the film’s scenes eerily echo what is still happening in 2015.
As if to punctuate the point, a state of emergency remained in effect this week in Ferguson, Missouri after police and protesters clashed during demonstrations commemorating the one-year anniversary of the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown Jr. Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, spawning days of fiery protests in Ferguson and across the nation. Wilson later resigned from the force.
Brown’s killing – and the fact that Wilson was not charged in the murder – escalated the debate over the use of excessive police force in cities across America. Police killings of black males in New York, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and California – among other states – also spawned a Black Lives Matter movement that is urging government officials to provide increased training and body cameras for police officers.
That movement is becoming increasing political – and confrontational – in cities across America. Black Lives Matter activists interrupted Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders during a speech in Seattle last week, ultimately taking over the stage and the microphone and shutting down the event. In Los Angeles this week, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a police commission meeting over the issue of police abuse, temporarily shutting down the meeting before officers regained control.
Hawkins, who portrays Dr. Dre in the “Compton” film, added that it’s sad how “relevant it still is” and that all that can be done is “continue the dialogue.”
Hawkins’ co-star O’Shea Jackson Jr., who portrays his father Ice Cube in the film, said the “only thing that’s really changed is that there’s camera phones” and social media today that can help hold people accountable.
“With more people aware of a problem, it usually leads to a solution,” Jackson said at the Los Angeles film premiere. “We need to start thinking of solutions because there are people in positions of power that are abusing the power, so it’s time for change.”
The low budget film, which cost Universal only $29 million, is being projected for a modest box office opening, but it is getting a lot of buzz due to good reviews and the timing of its release around the one-year anniversary of Brown’s shooting in Ferguson.
The mayor of Compton, Aja Brown, said she hopes the movie shows the evolution of the city of Compton and of the N.W.A members who have gone on to be “businessmen, family men and being just successful contributors to society.”
But for Ice Cube, there is still a vestige of the Compton attitude from 30 years ago.
“There’s enough videotape, there’s enough things out there going on now to hold these officers accountable,” Ice Cube said at the premiere. “Let’s do it. We just have to have the courage.”
Wave staff and CNN’s Topher Gauk-Roger and Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.