The filmmakers behind Dear Mama, FX's five-episode docuseries that delves into the relationship between Afeni and Tupac Shakur, know there can be a big difference between walking in someone's shoes and getting inside someone's mind. And in this docuseries, they attempt to do the latter for both of their subjects, according to executive producer and director Allen Hughes.
"Their lives so informed each other, and when you talk about pure love, I don't think there was any man that Afeni loved the way she loved Tupac or any woman that Tupac loved the way he loved his mother," executive producer Jamal Joseph said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the series.
Emotions mean that everyone's truth is slightly different, and Tupac certainly became a myth and a legend in life, and arguably even more so in death.
"He also was a myth-builder, maker, writer," Hughes admitted. "He didn't run away from the truth, and he didn't run away from the warts, but he did get big at times and he did get grand."
The docuseries does start with Tupac, specifically the 1993 shooting of two off-duty police officers in Atlanta, which then becomes framework for the first few episodes, Hughes said, because "that's when he became mythical in hip-hop...that's when you see the movie of reality." But then the docuseries delves deeper, almost forensically, to explain what happened not just in action but also in motive, aka the "more sober version."
"It's not that the opening wasn't true, but when you don't see the details, you don't know what the reality was," Hughes explained. "What was his original intent, what was his purpose, what did he really mean? ... What did he stand for?"
That reality includes never-before-seen archival footage of both Shakurs, as well as never-before-heard audio, namely of some of his a cappella tracks.
In order to tell both Shakurs' stories intermingled with each other, the filmmakers had to lean into who Tupac became as an iconic hip-hop artist and who Afeni was as a Black Panther party leader. And this means looking at who Afeni was before Tupac was born (she was famously pregnant with him while defending the Panther 21, and there were questions about whether she'd end up giving birth in prison or in a hospital), in addition to the pressure her status put on him once he was in the world.
"As a friend for the brief time I was tight with him and we were collaborating, I saw him becoming famous and becoming outspoken and somewhat erratic, but I didn't know ... what he was birthed into. There were expectations that his mother and his uncles had for him that I had no idea [about]," Hughes explained.
"He was royalty in the Black Panther party because of who his mother was — this was with him his whole life, he wrestled with it his whole life," Joseph added, noting that he doesn't feel Tupac ever felt comfortable because of this pressure.
Joseph, who was one of Tupac's Black Panther uncles who studied under Afeni (and ended up one of the Panther 21), shared that when he visited Tupac in prison, Tupac was convinced he was going to be killed because of who he was.
"They have to kill me because I'm a Shakur," he recalled the artist saying. "He understood that birthright and that legacy."
Dear Mama premieres with its first two episodes beginning at 10 p.m. April 21 on FX and will stream next-day on Hulu.