Straight Outta Compton told the story of the early days of gangster rap, as seen through the eyes of Dr. Dre. The film omitted his ex-girlfriend, early 1990s R&B star Michel'le, but she reveals her side of the story on Saturday in the Lifetime original movie Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge, & Michel'le. She narrates the biopic, telling the story of gangster rap through her romance with Dre. In the film, they fall in love, he starts abusing her, she starts abusing drugs, and then they have a son together.
After Michel'le finds sobriety, she leaves Dre only to fall in love with hip-hop mogul Suge Knight and have a child with him. On one occasion, she alleges, Suge punches her. But when she leaves her abuser this time, Michel'le embarks on a journey to find herself. Along the way, she reveals so many details of her personal life and the alleged abuse that even talk show host Wendy Williams found the movie shocking. As Williams puts it, the film gives new meaning to the phrase "beats by Dre."
Dr. Dre has denied abusing Michel'le. According to TMZ, lawyers for the N.W.A. producer sent a cease and desist letter to Sony Pictures, the movie's producers, threatening to sue if the movie airs. But after audiences criticized Dre for leaving her out of Straight Outta Compton, which he produced, he released a statement apologizing "to the women I've hurt," without naming his ex. (Dre's publicist and Knight's lawyers did not return Broadly's request for comment.)
Despite the legal threat, Michel'le has refused to stop telling her version of events. This week, she sat down with Broadly to discuss the cycle of abuse, dating Dre and Knight, and what she wants other women to learn from her experiences.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
BROADLY: What made you decide to do the movie this year?
Michel'le: Dr. Dre, when he did Straight Outta Compton last year, he did it. By leaving my character out, it made people wonder what happened to me because they knew I was in that era. They knew I was in that generation. People were like, "What does she want to say?" It just happened that way. Lifetime became my partner, and here it is.
Why was Lifetime the platform for your story?
Lifetime is about empowering women. I learn a lot from Lifetime. I think this is one of the edgier shows I've seen on this channel. We have a million lessons in this movie, from addiction to not knowing what love is to being abused, [both] mentally and physically, and we have nudity, which is rare. I don't think we get to see a lot of that on Lifetime, right? We don't get to see that!
What was the major thing that was left out of Straight Outta Compton that you wanted to clarify?
Absolutely nothing. I have not seen Straight Outta Compton, but from what I hear about the movie, that was Dre's story. It was his version of his life back then. I was surprised [by the movie's plot] because I didn't know we had such a fairytale life! When people tell me stories about the movie, I'm in shock.
How did you react when you heard Dre had threatened to sue Sony over your movie?
My reaction was, "Well, that's the second insult." You want to tell me that you didn't hit me at all, and now you want to stop me from telling my story. I don't think it's fair, but I will say that I'm shocked because I allowed [Dre] to tell his story, and really I would just like to tell my story. I need to get my point across because it's helpful for women. It's empowering that we know that, when you think I was living this life of just happy and I'm singing on Sony records and flying around the world and making all this money, people really don't know what's going on.
Back in those times, men beat women. It was common place.
How did you meet Dre?
I met Dre at [West Coast DJ] Alonzo [Williams]'s house. The first time I saw him, I didn't speak to him, and he didn't speak to me. Remember World Class Wreckin' Crew's "Turn Off the Lights"? He was in that group. I had never heard of that group. They needed a singer that night. Alonzo called me to come in and sing for him, and that's how I met Dre.
When you started dating, did you have a happy romance at first?
Absolutely! Every romance is happy for the first two weeks. This man was a genius, and we were kids. I just don't want women to live that life for any amount of money.
Did you stay with him for so long because women told you as a kid that all women go through abuse and must deal with domestic violence?
My grandmother was born in 1914. Back in those times, men beat women. It was common place. She liked Dre. She was trying to tell me, "Stick it out, make it work." That's what she was trying to do. I tried to make it work.
Is it true that Dre broke your nose?
He broke my nose once, and then he went to attempt to hit it again, but I moved.
Were you alone when he would abuse you?
Whenever he would hit me, it was either/or. We either had family members over or it was just me and him. He did it mostly in our homes. Mostly it was when we had family and friends [over] for dominoes [and] barbecues—we did that every week. The studio was in the home, so we had 50, 100 people every day going through the house on the weekend. Those last 20 people are probably the ones who caught the wrath. I caught a lot of it in my bedroom at night, where he could close the doors. [He did it] in the car. He would snatch me up in the car. I think I can call him a blackout drunk, because maybe he doesn't remember some things. I don't know. When you're scarred in your brain, you remember stuff like that.
Did you abuse pain pills to deal with abuse?
Not quite at that point. I was drinking at that point, because I couldn't get pills yet. I was drinking, because I would try to numb [the assaults]. We would get drunk together, we would have fun together, we would party—we would go to parties, these Hollywood parties. We would come home. We would feel great and everything, and out of nowhere, I noticed one night when he hit me, it didn't hurt as much when we had been drinking. I thought, Uh oh. If he's coming, I better [get drunk] because it didn't hurt as much.
Is your alcohol problem why your mother took guardianship of your son, Marcel, whom you had with Dre?
No, she took my son because me and Dre were not the best parents. I was taking my son to parties, college parties. My friends' kids were going to college and having parties. Dre was leaving [Marcel]. He just wasn't trying to play house. I just gave up. Sometimes it takes a strong woman to hold a groove, but sometimes you don't want that groove, because that groove [is] just not gonna stick. I was fed up. My mother saw that neither one of us was ready for this beautiful two- or three-year-old.
Was that for the best?
Oh, absolutely. It saved his life, it saved his life.
How did you get out of the relationship with Dre?
I went away. I got clean and sober. I didn't talk to him. I didn't call nobody. I went away. I came back. I was clean and sober when I got back, and they told me Dre was engaged. I was like, "Well, that was fast. Really?" From there, I tried to talk to him. I had confrontations with his new wife. I wanted him back, but we couldn't work it out. He still wanted to be that person. I was too sober to know that was not what I wanted. He wasn't ready to do what I wanted to do, because he still wanted to be Dr. Dre. I used to tell him, "I'll marry you when you stop being Dr. Dre."
After Dre, how did you end up dating Suge Knight?
When I got clean, and I got all good, and I was just ready to focus on music, and just focus on being a mother and all those things—Suge was just like a knight in shining armor. I didn't like Suge at the beginning—I really didn't—but Suge was just a knight in shining armor. He was just like, "Hang in there, hang in there." When I left Dre, I left everything. I walked away from the house. I took my car and my baby [and] clothes—that was it. I didn't fight him for nothing. I just said, "God would save me."
Was your relationship with Knight positive at first?
Once we built a relationship of confidence, I started trusting him when I needed him. When Dre wasn't there, he was there. When Dre was there, he would say, "Call Suge." When your man is keep saying, "Call Suge," to handle something that you're asking a man to do, women say, "C'mon now."
When did your relationship with Knight turn bad?
Oh, that turned bad. My daughter [with Knight] was two. We weren't really sleeping together anymore at that point anyways—she wasn't even two. I left when she was two. Suge has another child that's maybe ten months older than my daughter. We were supposed to be in a relationship. I said, "You know what. This is too dysfunctional." He lied about this woman he got pregnant. One day I saw her, and I said, "That's your baby, but you can lie if you want." I find out it was [Knight's] baby. I got the confirmation from [the mother's] mouth. I was like, "This is his baby. OK." Once again, I left him with his house and me and my baby's clothes, and I never looked back.
I know [Suge Knight] loves mothers and grandmothers.
Knight has maintained a terrible public reputation. Did you see a softer side of him?
Absolutely. He's kind. He's a romantic man, and I know he loves mothers and grandmothers. He will do anything for you, but the only problem is the payback is like a loan shark. You've got to pay that interest. I just never wanted to borrow from him. He has his good points, because all human beings do. They can't be bad people unless they can con you with kindness at first. It is what it is. It's in everybody!
Have your kids seen the Lifetime movie?
I have no idea. I really wish that they would, so they could understand my plight and where I'm coming from, what I'm trying to say, and what I was trying to do then but didn't know what to say. I really wish they would understand that I didn't come from parents who said they loved me and kissed me every day and tucked me in. They never even lived in the same home. Hell, my parents didn't even date. I really hope they don't think this learning journey is all mind. I really want women to take this and learn [to] please don't do what I did.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about you?
I don't know. There are too many.
That's a good note to end it on.
Can I ask you something? As a man, what message did you get from the movie?
I'm a gay man.
That's even better, because now you understand my plight and my realm of being with a man.
The biggest thing for me is to remember that people come from somewhere. People do things because of events that happened to them in the past that you might not know, and everyone is more complicated than you think. That was the biggest message of the movie. It's not like it was a takedown of Dr. Dre or Suge Knight. They come across as complicated men, and that's what was most illuminating about the movie.
You know what's funny? I was also making a new bed for myself that I had to deal with years later, because I hadn't even thought about that. This movie is about me showing my plight, and what I dealt with, and how strong I became to understand who I am. That is what this movie is about. It's not a bashing movie. Everyone has moved on, thank God, thank Jesus. You want to know if it's closure? Yes, it's closure!