After coming to terms with the ghosts from the past Allen Hughes takes us on an emotional rollercoaster with the five-part FX docuseries Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur. The director sheds light on the raw personal moments of Tupac’s life and explores the legend’s relationship with his mother Afeni Shakur.
After 26 years of his death, his legacy is alive and well so is there anything new left to be said about Pac? Allen Hughes gives us a resounding “yes” to this question giving us the five-part FX docuseries Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur.
But who is Hughes? What does he believe we are missing for truly understanding the rap giant? Why do you make a documentary series about a guy, who once assaulted you with a pipe? Let’s get to it?
Who is Allen Hughes?
One of those guys you can’t really put in a box. The Detroit-born filmmaker and producer along with his twin brother Albert Hughes made a debut with “Menace II Society” in 1993, which they co-wrote and co-directed.
In the following years, the Hughes Brothers really made some waves in the industry with: “Dead Presidents” in 1995, an acclaimed project exploring themes of race and identity, “From Hell” (2001), starring Johnny Depp, and the post-apocalyptic action peace “The Book of Eli” (2010) starring Denzel Washington.
Allen recently explored some solo projects with “The Defiant Ones” (2017) – a docuseries following the careers of Jimmy Lovine and Dr. Dre.
Allen Hughes is no stranger to directing music videos either, which brings us into…
The relationship between Allen Hughes and Tupac
“I met him (Tupac) at [a San Francisco restaurant] with Digital Underground. We were there for our first paying job. I remember being blown away by this kid at the end of the table. He was so funny and—here’s the overused word with him—so charismatic.” said Allen in an interview with The Ringer.
The young rapper even starred in “Menace II Society” and this is when things got south.
The fallout between the two
Long story short there were some rumors flying about the possibility of Pac being kicked out of the film. The rapper didn’t take that kindly and allegedly assaulted the Hughes brothers.
Shakur was found guilty of assault and battery charges. The NY rapper was sentenced to 15 days in jail, and 30 months of probation, which Pac just decided not to do. The follow-up was the judge extending the sentence to 120 days of jail time. However, the bail was paid and Pac was clear.
Why did Allen Hughes create Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur?
Following the previous story seems like the odd thing to do, right? Allen himself certainly thinks so, saying in The Rich Eisen Show:
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it at first” but quickly followed with “but then I realized I don’t understand him how I wanted to understand Tupac and also releasing that I was raised by a single mother on welfare who was a feminist… and I related to that.”
Allen Hughes firmly believes that the idea of who Pac was is distorted through time. Hughes notes that the people he deems “Not true fans” tend to look at Pac only as his Death Row version.
Allen makes a bold statement with his work on the series. His thesis is basically that If we really want to conceptualize who Tupac Shakur really was we have to look at the most influential figure in his life and career – his mother Afeni Shakur.
So who is his “Dear Mama”?
A political activist, a philanthropist, a rebel, a muse. And so much more.
Born Alice Faye Williams on January 10 in Lumberton, North Carolina, she faced the harsh realities of violence and injustice from a young age with her abusive father. She moved with her mother and sister to NY where Afeni joined Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts.
The young lady soon became interested in political activism and joined Black Panthers after hearing a speech by Bobby Seale in 1968. Afeni was one of the accused members of the party for planning the bombing of various buildings in New York city in 1969.
Afeni passed in 2016 but her very soul lives on in the discography of her son.
What do we learn from “Dear Mama” by Tupac?
Hughes shows us an intimate and visceral side of Tupac and his relationship with his mother. “I knew I would discover him through her,” Allen notes. “What made Tupac so great was everything she gave him: good, bad, and ugly,” he adds.
The director strives for context in the series by unveiling what his mother fought for and endured rather than giving us definite conclusions about her role in Pac’s life. Putting personal issues aside, Allen masterfully directs us through the journey of discovery. Not only about Pac and Afeni but also about our own figures of influence and social issues still relevant in today’s zeitgeist.